While in Minnesota on Monday for an event touting his administration’s tax policies, President Trump took time to speak with local television network KSTP about one of the state’s newest member of Congress.
The network’s chief political reporter, Tom Hauser, asked Trump if he regretted his tweet last week highlighting comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). At a speech last month, Omar described how Muslims had been a focus of scrutiny following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying that because “some people did something . . . all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” Trump’s tweet extracted the “some people did something” section of Omar’s comments and contrasted them with footage of the planes that struck the World Trade Center.
Omar faced threats against her life in the wake of Trump’s tweet, she said in a statement on Sunday. Many of those threats were publicly visible on social media. Less than two weeks ago, a New York man was arrested and charged with threatening her life.
"Any second thoughts about that tweet and the way it was produced and put together?” Hauser asked Trump.
"No, not at all,” Trump replied, looking into the camera. “Look, she's been very disrespectful to this country. She's been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel. She is somebody that doesn't really understand, I think, life, real life, what it's all about.”
"It's unfortunate,” he added. “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.”
The comment about Israel has an obvious genesis. Earlier this year, comments Omar made about the power of advocates for Israel in Washington were criticized as anti-Semitic, including by other Democrats. At the time, Republicans including Trump argued that she was embodying a broader anti-Semitism within the Democratic Party. Trump said she should resign from Congress.
Trump's other comments to KSTP, those about being “unpatriotic” and “disrespectful to our country,” are a little murkier in their origins. But Trump's made similar claims before.
"We have people in Congress — right now, we have people in Congress that hate our country,” the president said during his lengthy speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March. “And you know that. And we can name every one of them if they want. They hate our country. It’s sad. It’s very sad. When I see some of the things being made, the statements being made, it’s very, very sad.”
“Very, very — and find out, how did they do in their country? Just ask them, how did they do? Did they do well?” Trump said. “Were they succeeding? Just ask that question. Somebody would say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible that he brings that up.’ But that’s okay, I don’t mind. I’ll bring it up.”
Omar left her home country of Somalia when she was 10 and has been an American citizen since 2000.
Hauser appears not to have asked Trump questions following up on his response, which is regrettable, in part, because it would be interesting to hear Trump explain what he meant by Omar having “a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country.” Or that she doesn’t understand “real life.”
Given Trump's history of focusing on Muslim immigrants as dangerous — including his call in December 2015 for all immigration by Muslims to be halted — it's hard not to assume that this comment reflects something less about Omar specifically than about what she represents. Perhaps he's making a value judgment about Omar that isn't centered in that identity, but, without any other evidence at hand, it's hard to assume that he is by default.
After all, even before Omar's March speech came to light, some were linking her to the 9/11 attacks simply by virtue of her being an observant Muslim.
When Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro disparaged Omar earlier this year as perhaps being more loyal to “sharia law” than the Constitution, she was removed from her weekend show for several weeks. Trump publicly lobbied for Pirro to be reinstated.
Omar is apparently used to rebuffing criticism of her patriotism. That same speech concluded by addressing it specifically.
"I know as an American, as an American member of Congress, I have to make sure I am living up to the ideals of fighting for liberty and justice,” she said. “Those are very much rooted in the reason my family came here.”
It's worth noting that Hauser specifically asked Trump if he had second thoughts about the tweet *because* of the threats that she faced in its aftermath.
No, Trump said, because she’s been disrespectful to our country and to Israel, because “she’s extremely unpatriotic” and because she has “that way about her.”
Those things, in the president’s eyes, justify an inflammatory tweet.