“It Is About Time”


Amid an ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela, we speak with Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who questioned U.S. special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams on Capitol Hill in February about his record. Abrams is a right-wing hawk who was linked to the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela that tried to topple Hugo Chávez. In the 1980s, Abrams defended Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt as he oversaw a campaign of mass murder and torture of indigenous people. Ríos Montt was later convicted of genocide. Rep. Ilhan Omar says that there is a direct correlation between this type of detrimental U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and “the kind of mass migration that we’re noticing right now from Central America and South America to the U.S.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Congressmember Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota congressmember. She is the first Somali American elected to Congress, the House of Representatives, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. In February, Ilhan Omar questioned U.S. special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams on Capitol Hill.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Congressmember Ilhan Omar, before we talk about the remarkable rally held for you, in defense of you, yesterday, just outside the Capitol next to the Reflecting Pool, if you can comment what’s taking place right now in Venezuela, the U.S.-supported coup attempt against President Maduro?

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Thank you, Amy, for having me. It’s really great to join you all this morning.

I concur with what Professor Sachs was saying. You know, I mean, a lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela. And we’ve sort of set the stage for where we’re arriving today. This particular bullying and the use of sanctions to eventually intervene and make regime change really does not help the people of countries like Venezuela, and it certainly does not help and is not in the interest of the United States. And I think, finally, we have folks in Congress that see what Professor Sachs was referencing.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn right now to your questioning, Congressmember Ilhan Omar, your questioning of Elliott Abrams, the man who President Trump has made the special envoy to Venezuela. Elliott Abrams, the person who was convicted of lying to Congress twice, ultimately he was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. But this is Elliott Abrams before you, in committee.

REP. ILHAN OMAR: In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.

ELLIOTT ABRAMS: If I can respond to that—

REP. ILHAN OMAR: It wasn’t a question.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ilhan Omar, if you can talk about the significance of Elliott Abrams being made the point person on Venezuela, and what you do think Congress can do? I mean, congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, a bipartisan group, are supporting Guaidó, the man who simply announced that he’s president of Venezuela.

REP. ILHAN OMAR: People like Elliott Abrams, neocons and warmongers, you know, for so long have pushed for policies that are now—we can see, not only in Central America, but many parts of the world, the kind of devastations that they’ve had for decades. I could not pass up the opportunity to not only remind the American people that this was someone who was convicted of lying to Congress, but also someone who had a heavy hand in some of the most devastating policies that we imposed on Central America, and that there is a direct correlation between the kind of mass migration that we’re noticing right now from Central America and South America to this country.

I think, for so long, we’ve used muscle memory to sort of generate our foreign policy. And it’s about time, like Professor Sachs said, that we pause and we look at the kind of implications that our policies have, what our ultimate goal is, what is being successful, and what are some policies that we should do away with. I remember talking to Madam Secretary Albright and talking to her about the success of sanctions we impose around the world and how some of them have devastating effects on the actual population and not on the governments that we see as our adversaries. And she concurred with me that many of the sanctions that we impose ultimately lead to devastations—and we are seeing it now in Venezuela—and ultimately lead to having severe problems in that country, which doesn’t stabilize life for the people, and certainly puts us here in the United States at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ilhan Omar, we’re going to break and then come back to talk about this unusual rally that was held just outside the Capitol building next to the Reflecting Pool yesterday. Black women from around the country came in, led by, among others, Angela Davis. You stood with your sister congressmembers, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley. And people expressed their support for you, deeply concerned about the spike in the number of death rates against you and President Trump’s singular attack on you. We’re going to go to that in one moment.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. African-American women leaders gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday in defense of Congressmember Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in history, the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. Omar has been the target of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office, including by President Donald Trump himself. Omar says death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, civil rights icon Angela Davis and others addressed the crowd Tuesday to urge Congress to censure President Trump—who they referred to simply as “the occupant of the White House”—for his attacks on Omar and to send a message to both political parties: “Hands off Ilhan Omar!” This is Congressmember Ayanna Pressley.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: I had to come here to lend my voice and solidarity. Yeah, I happen to be a congresswoman, but before all the commas and titles, I’m a black woman. And Ilhan is my sister. … I am changing the things I can no longer accept. And from R. Kelly to Donald Trump, what we can no longer accept is the silencing of black women! This is a reckoning. This is us assuming our rightful place as the table shakers, as the truth tellers, as the justice seekers, as the preservers of democracy. We are demanding that you trust black women, that you see black women, that you believe black women and honor us for the role that we have played as healers and preservers of this democracy and this nation!

THENJIWE McHARRIS: Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: You know, I grew up in the most beautiful, blackest city in the country, in the city of Detroit. And many—and many of my teachers, my mothers on the block, all of them accepted me as a Palestinian woman, as a woman that understands through the lens of my ancestors, through the lens of my living grandmother in the West Bank, in the Occupied Territories of Philistine. They knew what I meant when I talked about the pain of oppression or the pain of feeling less than.

And I remember Ilhan saying that to me once, like, “You know, Rashida, I was born in a community where I was the majority, but you were born in a country where you felt like you were second-class immediately when you were born, right?” And this is a woman that speaks that way, that is raw, that is real. And I cannot stand that they continue to police her, they continue to police our words, they continue to police our positions. But I say hands off. Hands off of the women of color that serve in the United States Congress. Not only—not only do we look differently, but we serve and we fight differently. And it also means that we talk differently. It’s also that we are allowed to be angry in this country.

THENJIWE McHARRIS: Angela Davis.

ANGELA DAVIS: It is about time that we stepped up to defend those who represent our political vision on the front lines of struggle. I feel particularly motivated to join this amazing group, because the attack against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, while it is clearly directed at her as an individual, is also designed to dissuade all of us from speaking out on issues that are considered controversial. The attacks on her emanating from the occupant’s Twitter feed—that’s right, the occupant’s Twitter feed—and the numerous threats of assassination from white nationalists and their supporters are a way of sending messages to other black women, to all who hold radical and progressive political views, that they, too, can be made into targets of vitriolic, violent racism: “Be quiet, or you will suffer the fate of Ilhan Omar.” That is the message. But we do not heed that message. We refuse to be quiet.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights leader, scholar, professor Angela Davis, speaking in defense of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has repeatedly been accused of being anti-Semitic for criticizing the power of AIPAC and the Israeli lobby in Washington and questioning U.S.-Israeli relations. Despite the threats, she has refused to be silent and has continued to speak out against racism, against Islamophobia, against anti-Semitism and right-wing violence.

Ilhan Omar, I wanted to ask you about, well, one of the many comments was Traci Backmon, Reverend Blackmon, saying that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism grow from the same tree, that they are different branches of the same hate. Can you talk about this?

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Yeah. I mean, I referenced it as being of this—you know, the two sides of the same bigoted coin. We know that many of the people who are targeting the Jewish community for anti-Semitism are also targeting the Muslim community in Islamophobia. And so, we have to collectively work together to uplift our voices and say no to hate. We know that both of our communities here in the United States are targeted by white supremacists, and we know that the conservatives sort of are doing everything that they can to distance themselves, to disinform the public about the monsters that they helped feed, that are now causing devastation in mosques and in synagogues. And if we are not collectively wising up to that reality, then we will suffer the pain of it.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump recently said, in speaking to local media, talking about you, “She is somebody that doesn’t really understand life, real life. … She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad for our country.” If you can respond to this and tell us about your real life, where you were born—

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —what you’ve survived?

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Yeah. I mean, unlike the president, I don’t adhere to the belief that we should be furthering xenophobia in this country. This is my country. There is no his America. This is our America. We collectively live in this country. And I have as much of a right to it as he does and anyone else. So, that’s one.

Second, let me just say this: For this president, who really was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who rode the backs of marginalized people to make his money, to talk to me, as someone who survived war, lived in a refugee camp, learned English in six months, worked almost every single job that you can imagine, from cleaning offices to being a cashier to working my way up to now being a member of Congress, with only two decades of being in this country, to talk to me about real life, it really tells you how demented he sounds and how much he’s really willing to go in furthering the demonization and the silencing of minority communities, who understand that we have the power as people to stand up to him, to fight for the America we know we deserve, and to practice the kind of political joy that allows for all of us to participate and fight for prosperity, not for the few, but for the many.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ilhan Omar, I know your time is very short, and I wanted to ask, with the media painting you as a one-issue congressmember, what you think is being missed. For example, yesterday, the first-ever hearing on Medicare for all, the emotional testimony of Ady Barkan, who is dying of ALS, and others. If you can talk about Medicare for all, why you’ve come out in support of it, and also whether you feel that President Trump should be impeached?

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Yeah. So, Medicare for all and the testimony of Ady, the very impassioned testimony of someone we all love and are, you know, really excited that he gets the opportunity—he got the opportunity to speak at the first hearing of a policy that he’s been so passionate about, is one that I am really privileged enough to be the vice chair of, the Medicare for All Caucus. It’s important that we recognize healthcare as a human right and that we make sure that everyone, regardless of their economic status here in this country or their employment status, should have access to healthcare. It’s one that I’m very passionate about.

I talked about how my aunt, at a young age, in Somalia, died because she didn’t have access to insulin to take care of her diabetes. And in Minnesota, we had a very young man, around the same age as my aunt, in his early twenties, who died because he could not afford insulin. And so, to have something like that happen, not in a country like Somalia, but here in the United States, as well, is one that we should be ashamed of and one that we should work really hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And in—

AMY GOODMAN: Impeachment?

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Yeah, and in the question of impeachment, it’s about time. We’ve had the investigations. Mueller has clearly stated that if he was giving a different opinion by the general attorney, that he would indict. And now he’s kicked the ball to Congress. And we have an opportunity now to start impeachment proceedings for events that happened pre-election. And Rashida, myself, Alex and others are pushing to make sure that we can investigate post-election Trump and many of the obstructions and criminal activities that might have taken place in his White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Congressmember Ilhan Omar, Minnesota congressmember representing the 5th Congressional District, first Somali American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. I know you have to leave us, but we’re going to turn now, with your words, the words you shared yesterday at the Reflecting Pool outside the Capitol, speaking at the rally in your support.

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Here’s the thing that really offends a lot of people and the reason that we are here. I was born—I was born as a very liberated human being, to a country that was colonized, that recognized that they can colonize the land but they can’t colonize your mind, to people who recognized that all of us deserve dignity and that no human being was ever, ever going to tell you that you are less than them. Thirteen people organized for our independence in Somalia. So I was born in that breath of recognizing that they might be more powerful than you are, that they might have more technology than you have, they might think that they are wiser than you, they might control all of the institutions, but you control your mind, and that is what sets you free.

So, a sister of mine on TV said the thing that upsets—the thing that upsets the occupant of the White House, his goons in the Republican Party, many of our colleagues in the Democratic Party, is that—is that they can’t stand—they cannot stand that a refugee, a black woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, shows up in Congress thinking she’s equal to them. But I say to them, “How else did you expect me to show up?”

So here is the reality. I tell people every single day, I have a certificate that everyone else has hanged in their offices in Congress, the same exact certificate of election. But I got more people who voted for me and sent me here than 428 of them. So, when they say, “Who does she think she is?”—when they say, “Who does she think she is?” I am the one that the people sent to be a voice for them. So we have to always recognize that one marginalized voice represents many marginalized voices.

But I don’t only represent one marginalized voice, because in this country being black is enough of being marginalized. But I also happen to be a woman. That’s a second marginalization. I happen to be a Muslim. And I also, also happen to be a refugee and an immigrant, from what they call one of the “shithole countries.” The reality is, that “shithole country” raised a very proud, dignified person. Our circumstances might not always be perfect, but that doesn’t lessen our humanity. And I am not in the business of defending mine.

So, when this—when this occupant of the White House chooses to attack me, we know—we know that that attack isn’t for Ilhan. That attack is the continuation of the attacks that he’s leveled against women, against people of color, against immigrants, against refugees, and certainly against Muslims. And we are collectively saying—we are collectively saying, “Your vile attacks, your demented views are not welcome here. This is not—this is not going to be the country of the xenophobics. This is not going to be the country of white people. This is not going to be the country of the few. This is the country of the many. This is a country that was founded—this is the country that was founded on the history of Native American genocide, on the backs of black slaves, but also by immigrants.” And so, as much as we need to remedy the history that we continue to neglect, we also must recognize that every, every liberty that we enjoy here, every single progress we get to celebrate, came about because immigrants participated in it.

So, I know my place in this society. All of you know your place in this society. And it’s one that is equal to every single person that walks in it.

AMY GOODMAN: Minnesota Congressmember Ilhan Omar, speaking in front of the Capitol at a protest in her defense, organized by black women leaders. Sitting behind her, Angela Davis, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, urging Congress to censure President Trump, who they referred to simply as the occupant of the White House, for his attacks on Omar and to send a message to both political parties: “Hands off Ilhan Omar!” She says she has suffered a spike in death threats against her since President Trump pinned a tweet of a video that juxtaposed Ilhan Omar against the 9/11 attacks.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar addressed a crowd of black women leaders from around the country in front of the Capitol building Tuesday at a rally in her defense, following a series of right-wing attacks against her. Death threats against Omar have spiked in recent months after President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Congresswoman Omar is one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in history and the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. She has repeatedly been accused of being anti-Semitic for criticizing the power of the Israeli lobby in Washington and questioning U.S.-Israeli relations. Despite the threats, she has refused to be silent, continuing to speak out against racism, Islamophobia, right-wing violence and anti-Semitism. Omar—who was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a refugee—said on Tuesday, “I’m a survivor of war. And if I survived militia, I certainly can survive these people.” We play her speech.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. African-American women leaders gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday in defense of Congressmember Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in history, the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. Omar has been the target of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office, including by President Donald Trump himself. Omar says death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, civil rights icon Angela Davis and others addressed the crowd Tuesday to urge Congress to censure President Trump—who they referred to simply as “the occupant of the White House”—for his attacks on Omar and to send a message to both political parties: “Hands off Ilhan Omar!”

This is Congressmember Ilhan Omar, Minnesota congressmember representing the 5th Congressional District, first Somali American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the first Muslim women in Congress.

REP. ILHAN OMAR: I’m a little emotional. Everyone knows that I refuse to cry. I talk about this all the time. I always say that nobody really deserves my tears or any of my sisters’ tears. But you all have moved me to tears with your love. And I am just grateful to all of you.

To one of my idols, Angela Davis, I just—yeah, I just—I can’t tell you how enormously inspiring you have been to me throughout my life. And the work that you have done in making us realize that we have to be internally liberated to fight for external liberation has been life-saving for people like me who had to navigate what it feels like to grow up black in this country. So, thank you.

To my sisters who give me strength in the Movement for Black Lives, I am forever grateful to all of you. To Nina, who always brings down the house—I heard your voice all the way from the Capitol. And I was like, “That’s probably Nina or Ayanna, one of them.”

And to my sisters, our squad—people are like, “You call yourselves a squad.” I’m like, “I don’t know if we do that. You call us that.” But we are certainly sisters in the struggle to fight for authentic, authentic progress for all of our communities.

And Rashida was right: I bought all of them bracelets when I was in Austin a couple of weeks ago. And it all had messages to what they mean to me. I think of Ayanna as someone who never takes “no” for an answer, even as she broke her leg, constantly getting up, making sure that she was fighting for all of us, using the strength of her voice. So, what I got her, her bracelet says “Unstoppable.” And everybody knows Rashida is the eldest of 14 kids, and she is Mama Bear, and so that’s what her bracelet says. And to my sister Alexandria, who isn’t here, her bracelet says “Boss Babe,” because she’s fierce. And mine says “Badass.”

And here’s why. Here’s why. Here’s the thing that really offends a lot of people and the reason that we are here. I was born—I was born as a very liberated human being, to a country that was colonized, that recognized that they can colonize the land but they can’t colonize your mind, to people who recognized that all of us deserve dignity and that no human being was ever, ever going to tell you that you are less than them. Thirteen people organized for our independence in Somalia. So I was born in that breath of recognizing that they might be more powerful than you are, that they might have more technology than you have, they might think that they are wiser than you, they might control all of the institutions, but you control your mind, and that is what sets you free.

So, a sister of mine on TV said the thing that upsets—the thing that upsets the occupant of the White House, his goons in the Republican Party, many of our colleagues in the Democratic Party, is that—is that they can’t stand—they cannot stand that a refugee, a black woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, shows up in Congress thinking she’s equal to them. But I say to them, “How else did you expect me to show up?”

So here is the reality. I tell people every single day, I have a certificate that everyone else has hanged in their offices in Congress, the same exact certificate of election. But I got more people who voted for me and sent me here than 428 of them. So, when they say, “Who does she think she is?”—when they say, “Who does she think she is?” I am the one that the people sent to be a voice for them. So we have to always recognize that one marginalized voice represents many marginalized voices.

But I don’t only represent one marginalized voice, because in this country being black is enough of being marginalized. But I also happen to be a woman. That’s a second marginalization. I happen to be a Muslim. And I also, also happen to be a refugee and an immigrant, from what they call one of the “shithole countries.” The reality is, that “shithole country” raised a very proud, dignified person. Our circumstances might not always be perfect, but that doesn’t lessen our humanity. And I am not in the business of defending mine.

So, when this—when this occupant of the White House chooses to attack me, we know—we know that that attack isn’t for Ilhan. That attack is the continuation of the attacks that he’s leveled against women, against people of color, against immigrants, against refugees, and certainly against Muslims. And we are collectively saying—we are collectively saying, “Your vile attacks, your demented views are not welcome here. This is not—this is not going to be the country of the xenophobics. This is not going to be the country of white people. This is not going to be the country of the few. This is the country of the many. This is a country that was founded—this is the country that was founded on the history of Native American genocide, on the backs of black slaves, but also by immigrants.” And so, as much as we need to remedy the history that we continue to neglect, we also must recognize that every, every liberty that we enjoy here, every single progress we get to celebrate, came about because immigrants participated in it.

So, I know my place in this society. All of you know your place in this society. And it’s one that is equal to every single person that walks in it.

But my sisters and I also know our place in Congress. We know that we each represent 780,000 constituents, just like everyone else does. We know that the fight for liberation doesn’t only stay in the walls of this country, but it’s one that’s connected to every single community around the world, because when Palestinians are struggling with occupation and their dehumanization isn’t being talked about, that is on us to uplift them. When we hear the voices and the struggles of Venezuelans, we say, “Leave their sovereignty alone. Let them fight for their own liberation,” because we know—we know that our liberations are collective, that my freedom isn’t worthy of much if my sisters and brothers aren’t free, and my joy isn’t much if everyone else isn’t living a joyous life. A prosperity for me should never come in the expense of prosperity for everyone, that there is no way that I lose sleep over the safety of my children if I can’t lose sleep over the safety of everyone else’s children.

And at this moment, the occupant of the White House, as my sister Ayanna likes to call him, and his allies are doing everything that they can to distance themselves and misinform the public from the monsters that they created, that is terrorizing the Jewish community and the Muslim community, because when we are talking about anti-Semitism, we must also talk about Islamophobia. It’s two sides of the same coin of bigotry.

When they shove that to us and say we’re the party of hate, they forget that we’re the party of love, we’re the party of compassion, we’re the party of inclusiveness. What we are fighting for is not for the few, but for the many. Every single one, just this week, when we’ve had the attack in California on a synagogue, it’s the same person who’s accused of attempting to bomb a mosque. So I can’t ever speak of Islamophobia and fight for Muslims, if I am not willing to fight against anti-Semitism. We collectively must make sure that we are dismantling all systems of oppression. And as we did in the last two election cycles, we’ve all risen up and said, “All are welcome.” I remember showing up at André Carson’s office. He had “Refugees are welcome.” And I opened the door, and I was like, “Here I am!”

This has been our message. We say—right?—we’re fighting against Islamophobia, all refugees are welcome, this is the land of immigrants, Black Lives Matter. But we show clear hypocrisy when we’re not doing the work here in Congress in standing up to defend all of the marginalized identities that are being attacked through me. So this isn’t a pity party for Ilhan. This is about a show of strength. Right? This is a show of strength. This is for us to say—this is for us to say that when you come after one of us, you come after all of us. And when one of us speaks, all of us are speaking.

So, my strength is always not because I’m a big person—as you all can see, I’m very tiny. It’s not because I have some weird, internalized strength. It’s not only because I’m a survivor of war. And if I survived militia, I certainly can survive these people. But it is because every single place I go, I know that I am walking in with all of you, hand in hand. So I know that every time I interact with someone, every time I speak, every time I take a vote, that all of you are walking in with me. That is why people react very differently towards me than they do with others. So, as Rashida said, don’t desert us. We’re going to need you. Right?

I told Miski, my sister, Miski Noor, who’s from Minneapolis—wave, Miski. When I first got elected, they had a gathering for me in a collective home that they shared, the folks in the Movement for Black Lives. And a young woman started crying. And she said, “Ilhan, I’m glad we did the work in getting you elected, but now I’m really sad.” And I said, “Well, why are you sad?” And she said, “Well, I’m afraid that once you get there, you’re going to become just like everyone else.” And I said, “Well, everyone else becomes that way because they forget who they represent. I am never going to be at risk of becoming everyone else, who works in feeding corporate greed, because I know that all of you are going to sit me down at every moment that you get, and remind me what my purpose is, who I am fighting for and who has my back.” So I humbly thank you all for showing up.

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