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.
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”.
Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won't back down to Trump's racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 13, 2019
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.
The President is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman—and an entire group of Americans based on their religion. It's disgusting. It's shameful. And any elected leader who refuses to condemn it shares responsibility for it.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 13, 2019
Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington State who is focusing his presidential campaign on the risk of climate change, also responded quickly:
President Trump's inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric towards Ilhan Omar is jeopardizing her safety. He is deliberately putting her and all Muslim Americans in harm's way.— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) April 13, 2019
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.
We WILL forget you. You will be the first president who has fewer buildings named after you once you leave office than before you came in. We will forget all of you. https://t.co/vDX0CzE9Yt— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) April 13, 2019
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke shared a general condemnation of Trump’s Islamophobia, without mentioning Omar’s name. On Saturday, he did so.
We are stronger than this president’s hatred and Islamophobia. Do not let him drive us apart or make us afraid.— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) April 13, 2019
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.
After 9/11 we all said we were changed. That we were stronger and more united. That’s what “never forget” was about. Now, a president uses that dark day to incite his base against a member of Congress, as if for sport. As if we learned nothing that day about the workings of hate.— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) April 13, 2019
The threats against the life of @IlhanMN make clear what is at stake if we fail to to do this, and to beat back hate in all all its forms.— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) April 13, 2019
“I stand with her,” Julián Castro, a former San Antonio mayor who later served in the Obama administration, wrote.
I am grateful for @IlhanMN's courage and leadership and I stand with her - and with others targeted by the President's anti-Muslim rhetoric.— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) April 13, 2019
Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper called Trump’s attack “vile and shameful” as well as “dangerous”.
President Trump's personal attack against Representative Omar is vile and shameful. It's not just below the office, it's dangerous and dishonest.— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) April 13, 2019
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.”
Someone has already been charged with a serious threat on Congresswoman Omar’s life. The video the President chose to send out today will only incite more hate. You can disagree with her words—as I have done before—but this video is wrong. Enough.— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 13, 2019
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.
Whether it was President Trump walking menacing behind Hillary Clinton during their televised debate or his menacing behavior toward @ilhanMN now, his subtly violent behavior against women will not go unnoticed in the next election. I stand with her.— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) April 13, 2019
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang talked about Islamophobia but did not directly mention Omar:
I was in New York on 9/11. I remember walking uptown away from the WTC in a crowd of thousands. Remembering 9/11 does not mean inciting hostility toward Muslim-Americans who are just as American as anyone else. As President I would bring us together. We are all one country. 👍🇺🇸— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) April 13, 2019
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.
We need to start respecting each other. A divided America is a weak America. 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.— Tim Ryan (@TimRyan) April 13, 2019
On Saturday afternoon, O’Rourke shared a clip of a campaign-trail speech in which he discussed Trump’s attack on Omar directly:
The president’s actions are an incitement to violence against Rep. Omar and Muslim Americans across the country. There is a cost and consequence to this rhetoric. Members of both parties must stand together and condemn the president's dangerous actions. pic.twitter.com/GV5l2qLf0Q— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) April 13, 2019
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”:
For two years, this President has used the most powerful platform in the world to sow hate & division. He's done it again. Putting the safety of a sitting member of Congress @IlhanMN at risk & vilifying a whole religion is beyond the pale. I'll be blunt — we must defeat him.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 13, 2019
New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand criticized Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric” but also suggested Omar’s comments were “minimizing” the pain of 9/11:
As a Senator who represents 9/11 victims, I can't accept any minimizing of that pain. But Trump's dangerous rhetoric against @IlhanMN is disgusting. It’s a false choice to suggest we can’t fight terrorism and reject Islamophobic hate at once—a president should do both.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 13, 2019
Like O’Rourke, Swalwell revisited Trump’s attack with a response that mentioned Omar:
Had @realDonaldTrump tweeted @Ilhan’s FULL quote you’d hear “CAIR was founded after 9/11 b/c they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” With Trump’s threats & bullying, things are WORSE today for Muslims— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) April 13, 2019
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:
Rep. Omar is championing the cause of justice for all people - the forgotten Palestinians included.— Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) April 13, 2019
The endless legions of those attacking her simultaneously prop up our Empire and inhuman for-profit healthcare system. They don't care about American lives - or any lives. Shame.
From outside the race, the highly regarded Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, a potential contender, praised Omar’s leadership and offered prayers for her safety:
Our country is made better by Rep. Ilhan Omar’s voice and leadership in Congress. I am thankful for her courage and praying for her safety.— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) April 13, 2019
All Americans of good conscience must stand with the Muslim community & speak up against anti-Muslim bigotry stoked by inciteful rhetoric.
Omar also responded on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.
“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.”
Thank you for standing with me – against an administration that ran on banning Muslims from this country – to fight for the America we all deserve.💪🏽— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 13, 2019