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Ilhan Omar: Breaking Away from Firsts and His New Path Ahead

by Chloe Baker
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President Joe Biden was talking at a Minnesota clean energy facility when he noticed Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar in the audience. He thanked her for showing up and said she’s always working to make things fair for everybody.

When Biden visited Omar’s district near Minneapolis, he gave her a quick shout-out that was like praise. That was really important for Omar, because when she first started out in politics she had some struggles, and it seemed like Democrats might not support her. But now, things are much different, and she’s made a lot of progress!

Omar is starting her 3rd term in Congress, and she’s not only known for being one of the first Muslim women there or being a refugee from Africa. She’s also famous for being the first person to wear a hijab while in the House.

Over a dozen Democrats in the House and Senate say Congresswoman Omar is respected for standing up for people who are not given many opportunities to be heard. Her biggest act of courage recently was when all her fellow Democratic House members voted against a resolution by Republicans to kick her off the Foreign Affairs Committee because she had criticized Israel before.

“I’m really glad that the Democratic Party and its supporters have now accepted me with all my identities,” Omar said to Big Big News.

In their disagreement over her appointment, many of her fellow Democratic members – including some Jewish ones – argued that the Republican majority was being hypocritical.

Rep. Jan Shakowsky from Illinois said she doesn’t need anyone to protect her from antisemitism. She works together with her friend Ilhan Omar, who is the only Islamic woman on the Foreign Affairs Committee. They share common values and cherish them as both an American Jew and an American Islamic woman respectively.

The Democrats decided to pay back the far-right GOP in Congress who had said mean and violent things by having a debate about their colleague Omar. Last year, the Democratic Party was surprised to find out that Omar did not keep with the party line and made something of a stir by bringing up disagreements about Israel.

It all began with Omar posting online about certain pro-Israel lobbyist groups and if Jewish politicians, who spoke against her concerns regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, were being loyal to their religion.

Omar later apologized both to the Jewish public as well as privately to Jewish colleagues for bringing up this matter. She clarified that she was not questioning Jewish loyalty but instead was worried that whatever she said about Israel and Palestinians would be misconstrued as anti-Semitic.

In response, some important Democrats tried to write a resolution that opposed antisemitism and even named Omar. Sadly, not many people supported her. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont said that Omar could do better when talking to the Jewish community, but it was still okay for her to criticize the government of Israel.

When Ben Rhodes, who worked for former President Obama, first met Omar, he realized that she wanted to use her experience to work towards improving foreign policy.

Ben Rhodes, a person on Congress, said that there are lots of people representing typical views about American foreign policy such as on the Middle East and military stuff. But he thinks it’s really important to have more outside-the-box thinking and different ideas, which is what she offers.

In 2019, Democrats passed a resolution that spoke out against anti-Muslim bias without mentioning one specific person. Omar was a former state legislator and she worked hard to bring attention to various problems affecting immigrants and families in her district, as well as across the whole of Minnesota. As a result, she received support from different parts of the party.

Rep. Dean Phillips, a Jewish elected official from Minnesota, has shared that he has been spending more of his time with someone and in the process he has found out how significant her voice is to people all around the globe—not just from their community or country. He believes that even if they don’t always agree on topics, their different ideas can provide a great example of how disagreements should be handled.

Omar was climbing up the ladder in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a huge ideological group in the House. She was helping Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who is from Washington, track how votes were casted last Congress since progressives helped make Biden’s plans become reality in both the House and Senate.

In January, over 100 members chose Omar to serve as deputy caucus chair.

Jayapal said that even if she was removed from a committee, no one can stop her from speaking out about foreign affairs issues. She is too stubborn for anyone to silence her.

Omar, who was born in Somalia, is now playing a major part by helping Democrat Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. This involves showing everyone how they have made some great changes in the last two years like with their infrastructure law. It’s all about making sure Republican control doesn’t take over the country.

Rep. Jim Clyburn from South Carolina said that even though being removed from the committee was unpleasant, it’ll bring luck to Omar. She also has a new opportunity in her work as chair of an Africa policy working group, with other House Democrats, to focus on Africa’s issues.

“Rep. Sara Jacobs said that even though everyone in the group had different views, they all shared an idea of how the US should respond to what’s happening in Africa. They think it is important to rely more on diplomatic solutions rather than military ones and focus on protecting human rights and encouraging good government.”

Many were worried that taking Omar off the House Foreign Affairs Committee would stop her from talking about foreign policy. However, Omar said Republicans made a mistake because she was moved to the House Budget Committee. She joked that it was actually like being promoted!

We will get a chance to do something about our foreign policy in terms of defense, diplomacy and development. Plus, we will be able to be more involved in deciding how much money should go toward our defense budget.

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