WASHINGTON – Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar is fighting back after being labeled a bigot by critics for two tweets, one a recent post about Sen. Lindsey Graham and the other from more than six years ago about Israel.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Democrat posted a tweet about Graham, saying, “They got to him, he is compromised.” The comment was made with a retweet of a post featuring a 2015 CNN interview in which the South Carolina Republican called then-presidential candidate Donald Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
When asked about the tweet on CNN Thursday, Omar said her point was “we have seen many times where Sen. Lindsey Graham has told us how dangerous this president could be if he was given the opportunity to be in the White House and all of the sudden he’s made not only a 180 turnaround but a 360 turnaround.” (A 360 would technically mean Graham came full circle and opposes Trump again.)
“So, I am pretty sure that there is something happening with him, whether it is something that has to do with his funding when it comes to running for office, whether it has something to do with the pull that they might have in his district, or whether it has to do with some sort of leadership within the Senate,” she continued without explaining who she meant by “they.”
“He is somehow compromised to no longer stand up for the truth,” she concluded from his change of opinion.
When pressed on how she could make such a charge without evidence, Omar at first asserted “the evidence really is present to us” but then backtracked, explaining, “My tweet was just an opinion based on what I believe to be visible to me and I’m pretty sure there are lots of Americans who agree on this.”
Although she made no reference to Graham’s sexuality, many conservatives denounced her for homophobia, saying her tweet about Graham being compromised was a reference to long-running and unsubstaniated rumors that he is gay.
“This is ignorant, homophobic and unacceptable,” CNN’s S.E. Cupp tweeted with a link to the CNN interview in which Omar made no reference to Graham’s sexuality. “Democrats, this is becoming a very bad look.”
“Here we have Ilhan Omar, a sitting Congresswoman, floating around a conspiracy theory with absolutely zero evidence that Lindsey Graham is secretly gay and the GOP is holding him hostage. Unbelievable,” tweeted social media strategist Caleb Hull.
Omar responded with a tweet of her own.
“I love how revealing the Right is in their assumptions of me,” Omar said Thursday in response to a Breitbart News link to an article about the controversy. “Pro-tip- just because you are homophobic, doesn’t mean everyone else is.”
In another tweet, she said conservatives jumped to the conclusion she was being homophobic “because the Right thinks being homosexual is ‘compromising.'”
“Well I have news for them, being LGBTQ+ isn’t something we should be ashamed of!” she said. “Y’all know my tweet had nothing to do with his sexuality and everything to do with his blind cooperation w/ Trump. Let’s focus!”
But Cupp and others did not accept Omar’s explanation. When asked to remove her tweet calling Omar’s comment homophobic, she tweeted, “No. A member of Congress jumped on the patently homophobic ‘Lindsey must be hiding something’ bandwagon and offered precisely ZERO proof, only wholly invented, baseless hypotheticals. That’s irresponsible…and also ignorant, homophobic and unacceptable.”
Omar was not alone in her commentary on Graham.
On Sunday, Jon Cooper, who heads the Democratic Coalition super PAC, tweeted that a “Republican just told me that he doubts @LindseyGrahamSC is kowtowing to Trump (and indirectly Putin) because he’s being blackmailed over his sexual orientation (an open secret) or even financial corruption. Rather, he thinks it probably involves some pretty serious sexual kink.”
Cooper added in a follow-up tweet that “as an openly gay man myself, I couldn’t care less about Lindsey Graham’s sex life (gay, straight or otherwise). However, Graham is the Senate Judiciary Chair and there’s a strong likelihood that he’s being blackmailed by the Russians. If so, that needs to be revealed.”
The same day Omar posted her controversial tweet about Graham, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle suggested Graham had a change of heart about the president because “Donald Trump or somebody knows something pretty extreme about Lindsey Graham.”
And on Saturday night, “Avengers” actor Chris Evans called Graham “Smithers” in reference to a sycophantic character on “The Simpsons” who spent 26 seasons as a closeted homosexual before coming out in 2016.
“What do they have on you? I can’t tell if this shameful 180 is born of fear or thirst,” Evans tweeted to Graham in response to the senator’s call for President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency to secure funding for a southern border wall.
Graham’s office declined to comment when asked by USA TODAY. But in 2018 the senator did address a series of tweets from comedian Chelsea Handler, some of which included highly offensive language, that also implied he was being blackmailed for being a homosexual.
“She wants to live her life that way, that’s up to her,” Graham told TMZ. “She knows zero about me. To the extent that it matters, I’m not gay.”
Another Omar tweet from 2012 has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism against the congresswoman, who was appointed to a seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday.
“Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” Omar, who is Muslim of Somali descent, tweeted during an Israeli military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in Congress and certainly not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I am deeply disappointed in Speaker Pelosi’s choice, a choice that threatens the Committee’s long history of bipartisan support for Israel,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement Thursday.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said it was “disgraceful that Speaker Pelosi and her Democrat majority gave a coveted seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee to a member who has a documented history of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks.”
On Thursday, Omar told CNN her tweet was a regrettable way of expressing” her point and said she didn’t know her “comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans.”
The night before, she told Christiane Amanpour that she thought her choice of words was “unfortunate.”
“There’s a difference between criticizing a military action by a government that has exercised really oppressive policies and being offensive or attacking a particular people of faith,” she said.