The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives has been anything but smooth. Faced with a government shutdown immediately after regaining the gavel, Nancy Pelosi also has to face a trio of newly-elected female Representatives whose inability to self-censor and keep from making inflammatory remarks risks getting the Democrats in trouble. While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets most of the press, first-term Minnesota Congressman Ilhan Omar is making waves herself.
Omar’s comments on Twitter insinuating that Republican politicians supported Israel because they were paid by AIPAC were widely rebuked as being anti-Semitic, even by politicians within her own party. While the influence of AIPAC and other pro-Israeli lobbying groups can’t be underestimated, Omar’s comments were so glib that it’s understandable why so many people were up in arms. Part of that is due to the history of anti-Israel comments Omar has made in the past.
Speaker Pelosi demanded in no uncertain terms that Omar apologize, which she did, albeit in a backhanded manner. But make no mistake, Pelosi’s actions weren’t about any particular concern about anti-Semitism. Yes, Jewish Democratic Congressmen were unhappy with Omar’s comments. And yes, the Democratic Party is just as beholden to AIPAC as the Republican Party is. But the real reason Pelosi demanded that Omar apologize is that the Democrats cannot afford to have renegade Members running around making even borderline racist statements. That would undercut the tactics the party uses against President Trump.
Democrats have attempted for years to paint Trump as a racist and a bigot, using their friends in the media as collaborators. Enforcing border controls, expressing skepticism about the benefits of unlimited immigration, and looking to combat crime are all described by Democrats and the media as evidence of Trump’s racism. Democrats try to paint themselves in opposition as the standard-bearers of morality and anti-racism.
So when politicians like Omar start to make racist statements themselves it undercuts the Democrats’ entire line of argument against Trump. It enables Trump to paint the Democrats as harboring racists and destroys their credibility. We’ll have to see whether Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib will learn from their mistakes and temper their brashness, or whether they will continue to sabotage their party with their statements.