Ilhan Omar: how Democrats responded to Trump's 9/11 attack

Lois Beckett


On Saturday, Donald Trump’s attack on the Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar swiftly became something of a litmus test for Democratic politicians, as some of the most progressive 2020 presidential candidates spoke most quickly and forcefully in Omar’s defense.

Related: 'I won't be silent': Ilhan Omar answers Trump 9/11 attack

Other senior figures, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, were criticized for hedging their responses, condemning the president without mentioning Omar’s name.

Some declared or likely 2020 contenders, including former Vice-President Joe Biden and New Jersey senator Cory Booker, did not tweet any comment in the 24 hours that followed Trump’s tweet on Friday evening of a video which spliced footage from the September 11 terror attacks with edited remarks by Omar, accusing the politician of dismissing the seriousness of the attacks.

Trump was himself following Fox News commentators and Republican politicians who have repeatedly suggested that Omar, a black Muslim women who wears a hijab, is un-American and un-patriotic, and even that her religious beliefs are “antithetical to the United States constitution”.

Here’s a look at how Democratic presidential candidates responded on Friday and Saturday:

First few hours

The first public responses to Trump’s attack came from Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim woman in Congress, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman congresswoman from New York, a rising progressive star. Both called on other Democrats to speak out.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, a frontrunner in the 2020 race, released a statement within three hours, praising Omar’s leadership and calling attacks against her “dangerous”.

Minutes later, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted an even more strongly worded response, accusing the president of “inciting violence against at sitting congresswoman” and arguing that “any elected leader who refuses to condemn it” shares responsibility for the incitement.

Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington State who is focusing his presidential campaign on the risk of climate change, also responded quickly:

Friday night

Related: Yemeni bodegas boycott New York Post over attacks on Ilhan Omar

California congressman Eric Swalwell, who has entered the 2020 race with a focus on ending gun violence, responded to Trump by writing “We WILL forget you” and talking about how many buildings would be named after Trump in the future.

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke shared a general condemnation of Trump’s Islamophobia, without mentioning Omar’s name. On Saturday, he did so.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted a thread of comments criticizing Trump’s remarks, talking about the danger of Islamophobia and referencing his own military service in Afghanistan. Criticized for not mentioning Omar’s name in his first tweet, he referenced her directly later in the thread, in a tweet that posted about 20 minutes after his first one.

“I stand with her,” Julián Castro, a former San Antonio mayor who later served in the Obama administration, wrote.

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper called Trump’s attack “vile and shameful” as well as “dangerous”.

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar condemned Trump and the threats against Omar while distancing herself from the congresswoman from her home state, writing: “You can disagree with her words – as I have done before – but this video is wrong. Enough.”

Saturday

The author Marianne Williamson chimed in, connecting Trump’s attack on Omar to his “menacing” treatment of Hillary Clinton on the debate stage in 2016.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang talked about Islamophobia but did not directly mention Omar:

The Ohio congressman Tim Ryan condemned “invoking 9/11 for political gain” and wrote: “When the president attacks a sitting member of Congress by stoking the flames of racism & Islamophobia, it’s dangerous because it encourages hatred and violence.” He did not mention Omar by name.

On Saturday afternoon, O’Rourke shared a clip of a campaign-trail speech in which he discussed Trump’s attack on Omar directly:

California senator Kamala Harris, who is often criticized for a political record that does not match her progressive rhetoric, commented on Saturday afternoon, saying Trump was “putting the safety of a sitting member of Congress at risk” and “vilifying a whole religion”:

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand criticized Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric” but also suggested Omar’s comments were “minimizing” the pain of 9/11:

Like O’Rourke, Swalwell revisited Trump’s attack with a response that mentioned Omar:

The former Alaska senator Mike Gravel, a quixotic 88-year-old candidate seeking to make the debates and challenge party orthodoxy, tied attacks on Omar to his view of the bankruptcy of US foreign policy:

From outside the race, the highly regarded Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, a potential contender, praised Omar’s leadership and offered prayers for her safety:

And finally…

Omar also responded on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

Related: Republicans falsely claim Ilhan Omar denied 9/11 attackers were terrorists

“I did not run for Congress to be silent,” she said, adding: “No one person – no matter how corrupt, inept, or vicious – can threaten my unwavering love for America. I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans.”