Pelosi defends Omar: ‘No taint’ of anti-Semitism in Democratic Party

Amid feud between US president and freshman congresswomen Ilhan Omar, the top elected Democrat accuses Trump of exploiting the issue because he’s ‘out of ideas’

Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol, March 8, 2019, in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol, March 8, 2019, in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday the Democratic Party had “no taint” of anti-Semitism, and accused US President Donald Trump of cynically politicizing the issue.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, as anti-Semitic, and tweeted a video on Friday that attacked her for remarks she made last month that supposedly offered a flippant description of the September 11 terror attacks.

The attack drew a defense from Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, and many other members of the party, who said Trump had misrepresented Omar’s comments.

Trump further escalated the fracas Monday morning, accusing Omar of anti-Semitism in a tweet that read: “Before Nancy, who has lost all control of Congress and is getting nothing done, decides to defend her leader, Rep. Omar, she should look at the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements Omar has made.”

“I don’t think the congresswoman is anti-Semitic. I wouldn’t even put those in the same category,” Pelosi said in a CNN interview Wednesday in Dublin, Ireland, where she is traveling.

US Rep Ilhan Omar speaks to support LGBTQ and allied high school students from across the state of Minnesota who marched to the State Capitol steps Thursday, March 21, 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (AP/Jim Mone)

“We have no taint of that in the Democratic Party,” she said, “and just because they want to accuse somebody of that doesn’t mean that we take that bait.” Trump’s accusations, she said, were a sign that he is “out of ideas.”

Omar, a Somali American and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, has drawn widespread condemnation in recent months for remarks that claimed pro-Israel Americans had paid members of Congress to support Israel, among other tropes seen as anti-Semitic by the Jewish community.

During a visit to Minnesota on Monday, Trump seized on the dustups, telling KSTP-TV that he had no regrets about tweeting the 9/11 video on Friday.

“Look, she’s been very disrespectful to this country,” Trump said. “She’s been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel…. She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country. I think she’s extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.”

Neither Trump’s tweet nor the video included Omar’s full quote or the context. She told the Council on American-Islamic Relations on March 23 that many Muslims saw their civil liberties eroded after the September 11 attacks.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” she said. While CAIR was founded in 1994, according to its website, its membership skyrocketed after the attacks.

Pelosi’s defense of Omar on Wednesday followed a partial defense by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, in a televised town hall gathering in Pennsylvania on Monday. Sanders said he did not consider Omar anti-Semitic, but added that she must do a “better job in speaking to the Jewish community.”

At the town hall, hosted by the conservative Fox News Channel, Sanders also distanced himself from Omar. Sanders refuted moderator Brett Baier’s description of him as a “staunch supporter” of Omar, saying, “I’ve talked to Ilhan about twice in my life.”

Sanders, like Omar, has been critical of the Israeli government over its policy toward the Palestinians. He said ahead of last week’s national elections in Israel that he hoped that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would lose the election.

“I will do everything in my power, and I hope that every member of Congress will fight not only anti-Semitism, but racism and anti-Muslim activity so that we create a non-discriminatory society,” Sanders said. “But it is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel. That is not anti-Semitic.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks prior to a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez at the US Capitol in Washington on February 13, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Since Trump’s 9/11 tweet, Omar has said she’s faced increased death threats, many of them citing the video.

“This is endangering lives,” she said on Sunday night, accusing Trump of fomenting right-wing extremism. “It has to stop.”

An upstate New York man recently was charged with making death threats against Omar.

In response to the threats, Pelosi instructed the Capitol Police to take steps to protect the congresswoman’s safety and called on Trump to take down the video. Shortly afterward, the video disappeared as a pinned tweet at the top of Trump’s Twitter feed, but it was not deleted.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump on Sunday, saying the president had a duty to highlight Omar’s history of making comments that others deem anti-Semitic or otherwise offensive and that he wished no “ill will” upon the first-term lawmaker.

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