Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is never more alive than when she believes she’s being persecuted, which, to hear her tell it, is often.
Whether it’s the Israel lobby, the Jews, her fellow Democrats, the Jews, MAGA Republicans, or the Jews, everyone is out to get Rep. Omar. In her estimation, this is a product of everyone else’s pathologies, never her own. Now, the Minnesota congresswoman has found herself in the crosshairs of the new Republican leadership, which has singled out her and two of her Democratic colleagues for punishment in the form of withheld committee assignments.
It’s crucial to concede from the outset that Republicans are not acting on some high-minded principle. This is payback, plain and simple. The effort to keep Omar, as well as Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, off influential House committees is a response to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to withhold committee assignments from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. The offenses all these members are accused of range from violating standards of decorum to potentially being compromised by foreign agents to plain old ideological grandstanding. That is to say, some of the offenses of which these Republican and Democratic members are accused more legitimate than others. And the whole thing may come to nothing. Apparently, Kevin McCarthy’s pursuit of retribution discomfits some members of the GOP’s slim majority. But even those squeamish Republicans acknowledge that Nancy Pelosi set a dubious precedent, and new precedents beget more precedents.
None of this seems to register with Omar or reflexive critics of the House Republican conference. For her and them, Omar’s victimization is unprovoked and undeserved.
“I do not actually think that he has a reason outside of me being Muslim and thinking I should not be,” Omar told the Huffington Post regarding the speaker’s motives for withholding committee assignments. Casually projecting bigotry onto her political opponents isn’t new for Omar, and it’s likely that she doesn’t recognize it as projection. As evidence for her assertion, she quotes McCarthy saying that he believes his members will support this initiative given the congresswoman’s “comments against Israel.” Her opinions, she appears to believe, are derived from her identity. They are inseverable for her.
She continues along these lines: “As the only African-born [member of Congress], not being on the Africa subcommittee is not just an elimination of a unique voice but an elimination of all the voices that have never been heard on a committee on the continent,” Omar wrote. “It’s racist, xenophobic, and discriminatory.” It is evidence of a fairly advanced case of narcissism to suggest that her absence from this subcommittee constitutes the “elimination of all the voices” that have thoughts on one of the planet’s largest landmasses. Given this level of earnest vanity, it’s probable that Omar does regard McCarthy’s retribution as a personal slight.
She’s not alone. In on-air comments, CNN reporter MJ Lee lent credence to Omar’s theory of the case. Simply dismissing the notion that Republicans are building on Democratic precedent, Lee said there is “a very clear distinction between removing members from a committee or refusing to allow them to sit on a committee because you have some political or ideological differences” as opposed to “doing this because somebody has a real ethical or character issue.”
That description of Republican attitudes and actions does not apply to Omar because she most certainly does suffer from “a real ethical or character issue.” It’s one that Democratic leadership tried to censure her over, failing only due to the objections of her party’s most progressive members. That was in 2019, after Omar made a third highly publicized, blatantly anti-Semitic remark, ensuring that Democrats could no longer look past this trait. Moreover, it was one for which she refused to apologize. Her party’s leadership didn’t want to have to censure one of its own members, as the initiative’s failure attests. But her “real ethical or character issue” forced their hand.
So what does this have to do with Omar’s capacity to serve on congressional committees such as the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she served under Democratic leadership? Omar herself has explained precisely how she wants to see her outlook on the world applied to the conduct of America’s affairs abroad.
“When I think about foreign policy,” she told reporters with the Chicago Tribune in 2019, “we need something equivalent to the Green New Deal.” By this, she meant a wholesale renovation of American foreign policy to reimagine its allies as its adversaries and its adversaries as its allies. The Congresswoman agonized over alleged human-rights abuses in Brunei while advocating a thaw in relations with Iran. After all, the “same people who falsified intelligence before the Iraq War are now beating the drums for war with Iran.” Justifying the appeasement of a rogue state and sponsor of terrorism by invoking an utterly addled conspiracy theory would suggest that the congresswoman suffers from deficiencies of judgment.
Likewise, in Omar’s view, the only reason why Venezuela’s repressive and violent regime is repressive and violent is that the United States made them do it. “A lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela,” she averred in an interview with Democracy Now! Omar is confused. She has reversed the order of events, attributing Venezuela’s violence against and mistreatment of its citizens to American actions. In fact, much of the sanctions regime the Trump administration inherited from Barack Obama’s White House was a response to Caracas’s violent crackdown on anti-regime protests.
Between the serious lapses in judgment, the regular anti-Semitic episodes, and the precedent justifying Republican actions, Omar does not have a serious case to make in her defense. She is not a victim of forces beyond her control. Republicans are amply justified in doing what they can to prevent Omar from having the power to pursue her conspiratorial ambitions. As they should.