Ilhan Omar started a new way that is no longer defined by 'firsts'

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden was about to give a speech at the Minnesota Clean Energy Institute when he spotted a lawmaker among the crowd he wanted to know.

“I want to thank you for being here,” Biden said, pointing in the direction Democratic Republic of Ilhan Omar During a recent visit. “He will never stop working to level the playing field for all.”

For Omar, the quick flash of appreciation from Biden — who was neither her first nor second choice for the party’s 2020 White House nominee — was more than a shout of respect during the president’s visit to her suburban Minneapolis home. It was the recognition of how far Omar had come from her political career that sometimes made her stand with Democrats seem difficult.

As she completes her third term, Omar won’t be defined by the “firsts” that have accompanied her arrival in Congress: one of the first Muslim women in the House, the first African immigrant elected to the House, the first lawmaker to wear a hijab on the House floor.

Lawmakers, in interviews with about a dozen Democrats in the House and Senate, described Omar as a tough lawmaker who has won praise for reaching out to marginalized groups on Capitol Hill over the past four years.

The best example of this came in early February when every single Democrat a The GOP’s decision to fire her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on her Past comments on Israel.

I think we have succeeded in getting the Democratic Caucus, the Democratic Party, the Democratic Institution to a place where they can fully see me, not just for me to see, but for all the many identities that I have been the first to see. Respect him, not defend him,” Omar told The Associated Press.

During a debate on her committee’s seat, several members of Omar’s Democrats, including those of Jewish descent, called the new Republican majority hypocritical in the House.

“I don’t need any of you to defend me against anti-Semitism,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “My friend Ilhan Omar and I have shared values ​​that I hold dear as an American Jew and as an American Muslim woman, the only one on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Democrats called it payback because they used their majority in the last Congress. He pushed far-right GOP lawmakers out of committees For them Incendiary, violent opinion S. But the emotional floor debate against Omar was a departure from the bipartisan anger she faced during her first year in office. At the time, Democrats faced the reality that Omar — while touting the party line — came with differing views. He dragged the division on Israel to the square.

It began with social media posts in which Omar criticized pro-Israel lobby groups and questioned the integrity of Jewish lawmakers against her criticism of the Israeli government.

Omar has publicly and privately apologized to her fellow Jews for her comments. She expressed concern that what she is questioning is the influence game in Washington, and everything she says about Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians is said to be anti-Semitic.

In response, senior Democrats began drafting a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, an early version of which mentioned Omar by name. At the time, only a few Democrats in and out of Congress came to her defense.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the top progressive in Congress, said in April 2019 that Omar “needs to do a better job of talking to the Jewish community” but that “right-wing criticism is not anti-Semitic in Israel.”

Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said after meeting Omar early in his career, she wanted to use her background to make structural changes in foreign policy.

“There are a lot of people in Congress who can represent a conservative view of American foreign policy, whether it’s on the Middle East or military policy,” Rhodes said. “There’s a huge need for unconventional ideas and different perspectives, and that’s what she brings.”

Democrats introduced and passed the resolution in the spring of 2019 It included condemnation of anti-Muslim bigotry but did not mention Omar by name. For the next several years, the former state legislator focused on bringing attention to issues affecting immigrants and families in her district and across Minnesota. And because of this, she got support from various factions of the party.

“The more time I spend with her and understand her perspective, the more important her voice is to represent not only our community in Minnesota, but across our country. Around the world,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., another Jewish member of Congress. “Not to agree. This building was not built for compromise. It was created to manage conflict. And I’d like to think that she and I can be a good example of that.

Omar began to rise up the ranks in the Congressional Progressive Caucus—one of the largest ideological caucuses in the House. Last term, she became the vote counter for caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., as progressives in Congress paved the way for Biden to pass the House and Senate.

In January, Omar was elected vice caucus chairman by more than 100 members.

“She never stops using her voice,” says Jayapal. “She will continue to be vocal on foreign affairs. Taking her off the committee will not silence her. She is very strong for that.”

Born in Somalia, Omar is now starting a new chapter “as a minority, little by little,” helping Biden and the Democratic Party deliver a split-screen bid for Republican control by building on a number of previous legislative successes. Two years including the infrastructure law.

“Being kicked out of the committee is not fun. But I think she’s going to turn it into a real blessing,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn, D.C., an early supporter of Omar and a member of the House Democratic Leadership Group.

Omar is chairing the newly formed Africa Policy Working Group, where she and more than a dozen House Democrats will focus on issues on the continent.

“We don’t agree on everything,” said Rep. Sarah Jacobs, one of the group’s members. But we share the same worldview, especially when it comes to the African continent

While many expressed concern that her departure from the House Foreign Affairs Committee would silence her on foreign policy, Omar said Republicans miscalculated by assigning her to the House Budget Committee instead.

“That’s why I joke about the fact that the Republicans removed me from the Foreign Affairs Committee and they basically promoted me,” Omar said.

“Because not only will we be able to address our foreign policy investments in development, defense and diplomacy, but we will also be able to have a lot of input as discussions continue regarding our own defense budget.”

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