Which Side Are House Democrats On?


Zach Carter

When President Donald Trump tweet­ed a video of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D‑Minn.) spliced among images of the Twin Towers col­laps­ing, every­body knew the deal. Trump has one polit­i­cal play ― aggra­vat­ed racism ― and he had decid­ed to make Omar, a Somali refugee who came to the United States as a child, the pub­lic focal point of his hate. Trump is going to do hor­ri­ble racist stuff. It’s what he does. And while there are a lot of black and brown Democrats in Congress, Trump picked on Omar because Democratic lead­er­ship had spent much of the pre­vi­ous two months try­ing to fig­ure out the cor­rect way to dump on her. 

Omar had offend­ed Jewish mem­bers of the cau­cus with com­ments about Israel that were legit­i­mate­ly insen­si­tive, but not exact­ly a nation­al cri­sis. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D‑Calif.) sur­prised her cau­cus by telling them they would be vot­ing on a res­o­lu­tion that con­demned Omar by name, uproar ensued. Why were Democrats sin­gling out one of their own over some stray tweets when the pres­i­dent was putting brown chil­dren in cages, rant­i­ng about immi­grants from “shit­hole coun­tries” and stand­ing up for the “fine peo­ple” who marched with Nazis in Charlottesville? Was the man run­ning the exec­u­tive branch of the most pow­er­ful nation on earth the prob­lem, or a ran­dom House fresh­man?

Democrats do need a positive economic message, and it does need to be better than whatever Pelosi was talking about on Wednes

Democrats even­tu­al­ly split the baby, vot­ing to con­demn anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (phew!) ― but Pelosi had exposed a weak spot. Seeing the cau­cus divid­ed over Omar, Trump attacked. She was del­uged with death threats, and Democrats didn’t know what to do. Somehow nei­ther Pelosi nor her cau­cus learned any­thing from this débâ­cle. They’re still com­plain­ing about Omar, and whin­ing to the press about how they don’t real­ly want to have to vote against the awful things the most pow­er­ful man on the plan­et does. Pelosi spent much of the past month paint­ing tar­gets on the backs of Omar and three oth­er fresh­man Democrats: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D‑Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D‑Mich.). She bad­mouthed them to New York Times colum­nist Maureen Dowd, and when they fired back, she held cau­cus meet­ing to denounce them again for tweet­ing their com­plaints. Two days lat­er, House lead­er­ship vio­lat­ed this new no-mean-tweet­ing rule to attack Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff from the offi­cial @HouseDemocrats Twitter feed. 

Trump, cor­rect­ly read­ing the room, pounced again. He attacked all four in a racist Twitter rant on Sunday, telling them to “go back to their coun­try.” When Pelosi final­ly got her mem­bers to vote for a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the president’s remarks, a crop of House Democrats imme­di­ate­ly went to CNN’s Jake Tapper to com­plain under cov­er of anonymi­ty that they real­ly hat­ed hav­ing to vote about Trump and were still mad at the Squad.
Their com­plaints? They wish Ocasio-Cortez hadn’t described the prison camps at the bor­der where chil­dren are dying and refugees are being rit­u­al­ly humil­i­at­ed as “con­cen­tra­tion camps.” One Democrat com­plained that sin­gling out Trump for crit­i­cism was unfair when Democrats had failed to leg­isla­tive­ly con­demn Omar back in the spring. “We couldn’t even bring our­selves to have a res­o­lu­tion exclu­sive­ly con­demn­ing anti-Semitism uttered by one of those mem­bers,” this brave Democrat told Tapper, “but we leapt to their defense here.”

Once again, Trump got the mes­sage. Shortly after Tapper post­ed all of this stuff, Trump held a ral­ly in North Carolina where he assailed all four House mem­bers, inspir­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing chant of “Send her back!” refer­ring to Omar. Democrats aren’t going to agree on every­thing. No polit­i­cal par­ty ever does. They have ide­o­log­i­cal dis­putes, gen­er­a­tional divides, what­ev­er. But House Democrats haven’t been debat­ing. For months now, they’ve been direct­ing a fas­cist feed­ing fren­zy toward four women of col­or.
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