Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was born in Somalia in 1981. She and her family immigrated to the United States in 1992, fleeing war in their home country. They were granted asylum and moved to Minnesota. She became a citizen in 2000 and a member of Congress in January.
In 1984, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) was also born outside the United States, specifically, Scotland. His father worked in the oil industry, meaning that his family traveled regularly. After attending Tufts University on a naval ROTC scholarship, he eventually served as a Navy SEAL in Iraq and Afghanistan, losing sight in one eye during an attack. He was also elected to Congress in November.
The paths each took to Congress were distinct. Omar won the Democratic primary in Minnesota’s Fifth District (replacing now-state Attorney General Keith Ellison) with less than 50 percent of the vote but then easily won election in a heavily Democratic district. Crenshaw easily won the Republican nomination but more narrowly won election in a district drawn largely to cover a ring of suburbs near Houston.
About 15 percent of Omar’s district is foreign-born, compared with 21 percent of Crenshaw’s district. More than half of the immigrants in Crenshaw’s district are Hispanic, however, while most of the foreign-born residents in Omar’s are not. Many, like her, are Muslim.
Beside these differences in their districts, Omar and Crenshaw represent different factions of American politics, reflecting and expanding upon the differences in their party identifications.
Omar is a woman of color, one of dozens representing the Democratic Party in Congress. She is an outspoken advocate of the party’s more progressive wing, allying with vocal proponents of change such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Omar also criticized the power of the pro-Israel lobby that some — including in her own party — said showed anti-Semitic bias.
Crenshaw, like nearly every Republican in the House, is a white man. He’s been described as one of the party’s central assets in expanding its appeal to younger voters.
He’s embraced that role in a distinct way. Since rising to national prominence after being the target of a joke on “Saturday Night Live,” Crenshaw has seized on social media as a way of engaging in political arguments and elevating fights at the heart of the cultural debate. Although at the Conservative Political Action Conference he described a society in which people were “easily enraged by every tweet they see” as not being “sustainable,” he’s often used tweets to highlight missteps by Democrats, often a first step toward enraging conservatives.
Omar — as a progressive and a target of the right — has been mentioned by Crenshaw with regularity. He disparaged comments she made during the partial government shutdown; he joined in the criticism she faced over her Israel comments.
The most successful example of his focus on Omar came last week. Crenshaw recirculated a clip of her speaking at an event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In the clip, Omar refers to the 9/11 attacks as “some people [who] did something.”
That’s not all she said, however. As The Post’s fact-checkers pointed out, the full context for the comments makes more obvious that her point was that the attacks of Sept. 11 were used to paint Muslims negatively more broadly.
“For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” she said. “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.” (CAIR was actually founded in the 1990s.)
At another point in her speech, she criticized President Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims.
“Many of us knew this would get worse, we finally have a leader, a world leader, in the White House who publicly says ‘Islam hates us,’ who fuels hate against Muslims,” she said, “who thinks it is okay to speak about a faith and a whole community in a way that is dehumanizing, vilifying and doesn’t understand — or at least makes us want to think he doesn’t understand — the consequences his words might have.”
The day after Crenshaw tweeted about her CAIR speech, Omar introduced a bill to end Trump’s ban on migration targeting several Muslim-majority countries such as Somalia.
The morning she introduced that bill, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade had asked if her comments to CAIR made one have to “wonder if she’s an American first.” Omar and others noted the similarity between this line and something she’d been accused of earlier this year: questioning the loyalty of some of those who prioritized policies supporting Israel.
Omar lashed out at Kilmeade’s comment and Crenshaw’s tweet.
“This is dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face. I hope leaders of both parties will join me in condemning it,” she wrote on Twitter. “My love and commitment to our country and that of my colleagues should never be in question. We are ALL Americans!”
“I never called you un-American,” he wrote. “ . . . I did not incite any violence against you . . . You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as ‘some people did something.’ It’s still unbelievable, as is your response here.”
On Friday, Trump tweeted a video blending Omar’s CAIR comments with footage from the 9/11 attacks, under the all-caps phrase “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”
“Just so we are clear on basic notions of reality: When someone calls out a public official for things they said, it is not endangering their life or inciting violence,” Crenshaw tweeted a few hours later, after Omar and other Democrats expressed concern about Trump’s tweet. “Claiming otherwise is just an attempt to silence your critics.”
Earlier this month, a New York man was arrested after allegedly threatening to kill Omar. Late Sunday night, Omar released a statement addressing the risk she faced.
“Since the President’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life—many directly referencing or replying to the President’s video,” the statement said. “I thank the Capitol Police, the FBI, the House Sergeant at Arms, and the Speaker of the House for their attention to these threats.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted on Sunday that she’d asked the House sergeant-at-arms to ensure Omar’s safety, after taking some heat for going after Trump’s video about Omar without actually defending the House freshman. Trump criticized Pelosi on Monday morning after disparaging her appearance on CBS News’s “60 Minutes” the evening before.
“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,” Trump wrote. “She is out of control, except for her control of Nancy!”
Trump’s description of Omar as the “leader” of Pelosi echoes reporting from the New York Times.
“Trump and his team are trying to make Ms. Omar, one of a group of progressive women Democratic House members who is relatively unknown in national politics, a household name, to be seen as the most prominent voice of the Democratic Party, regardless of her actual position,” Maggie Haberman wrote. “And they are gambling that there will be limited downside in doing so.”
Since appearing to defend Trump’s tweet late Friday, Crenshaw hasn’t commented on the uproar for which he is significantly responsible. For her part, Omar offered some thoughts indirectly targeting the president.
“No one person — no matter how corrupt, inept, or vicious — can threaten my unwavering love for America,” she wrote. “I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans.”