This Philip Bump column about Rep. Omar proves nothing

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

By now we’re all used to Philip Bump’s style of commentary. Come up with an anti-Republican gotcha claim, produce a few graphs and call it a fact. Frequently, these columns are often strained, sometimes dishonest and occasionally just downright embarrassing. Today’s entry probably fits into another category: abject failure. The piece is headlined “The political targeting of Ilhan Omar is inextricable from her religion.” It opens with an admission:

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In 2019, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was booted from his committees after Democrats retook control of the chamber — and after he told the New York Times that he didn’t understand why the term “white supremacist” was offensive. He claimed that this quote was misrepresented, but it came at the end of a long chain of increasingly questionable commentary about immigration and race. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recommended King lose his committee assignments, so he did.

A few paragraphs later, Bump attempts to get to his point.

The official reason for Omar’s removal centers on antisemitic comments she has made in the past — comments that contributed to a furor that is unquestionably linked to her Muslim religion.

Speaking to CNN about McCarthy’s proposal, Omar suggested that her religion played a role. She said of her colleagues that “many of these members don’t believe a Muslim refugee, an African, should even be in Congress, let alone have the opportunity to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee.” She denied accusing McCarthy of racism but noted his relative indifference when Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) made a joke about Omar being a terrorist.

Of course it’s one thing for Rep. Omar to claim opposition to her is about Islamophobia, but Bump has promised to prove it. Bump begins that process by lowering expectations for his ability to actually prove it.

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The path from Omar’s religion to her ouster from the Foreign Affairs Committee is at the very least more circuitous than directly Islamophobic or racist beliefs, but it’s nonetheless clear.

He then points readers to this Politifact fact check of a Facebook meme calling her a traitor for being sworn in on the Koran. Who posted it? How many people saw it? I don’t know and you can’t either because the post is gone and even the Wayback machine doesn’t seem to have a copy of it. So, I don’t know. Maybe 100,000 people liked this meme or maybe it was 10. It seems like that ought to matter but Bump doesn’t tell us which. And then we get to some stories that actually did make news and generate a backlash:

A few months after taking office, Omar triggered a conservative media frenzy when she praised the work of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a way that was framed as dismissing the attacks themselves. She’d already apologized after making comments on social media that leveraged long-standing antisemitic rhetoric, which she insisted was inadvertent.

He’s talking of course about Rep. Omar’s statement at a gathering for CAIR that “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” It’s true that did trigger a response from a lot of people who thought “some people did something” was a pretty dismissive way to talk about the shocking mass murder of nearly 3,000 Americans.

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The Post’s Glenn Kessler did his best to contextualize that comment but in my view it didn’t help because she wasn’t taken out of context in the first place. She was definitely talking about the 9/11 terrorists. Still, no one would have cared if Rep. Omar had dismissed and disrespected the terrorists as “some people” or even “some losers.” What upset people was the flip reference to the attack itself, i.e. “did something.” Hence, you get this reaction from Rep. Crenshaw at the time:

And this response on the cover of the NY Post.

I still maintain the backlash on Rep. Omar’s comments was a fair hit. A politician’s job is talking and she really stepped into a big hole with those, shall we say inartful, comments. Would those comments still have generated a backlash if a different Democrats had said them? I think they would but Bump’s position seems to be that this was primarily a veiled attack on her Islamic faith. Can he prove that? Well, no, not really. He next points to this clip of Rep. McCarthy accusing Rep. Omar of having an “anti-semitic, anti-American view.”

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We already know what the “anti-Semitic” part of that was about. The anti-American part was about another stray tweet she had to apologize for.

Do we need someone on the foreign affairs committee who doesn’t see much difference between her own country and the Taliban? I’m thinking maybe not. But again, can Bump prove that the backlash to that tweet was solely because of Omar’s religion? Put it this way, if Chuck Schumer or AOC had issued the same tweet would there have been a backlash? As part of the conservative media for the past decade, I can guarantee you the answer is yes. In the end, Bump seems to just throw up his hands and assert the very thing his headline promised to show.

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Many on the right clearly saw Omar as having suspect loyalties from her first moments in office for little obvious reason other than her religion. Various comments from Omar — some obviously problematic, others overblown in the conservative media — were stapled onto that narrative.

I don’t think Philip Bump has a very good handle on what people on the right think or what people in conservative media think. I don’t even think he’s a fair judge of what is problematic and what is “overblown in the conservative media.”

As I see it, Rep. Omar created her own problems with her own words. Her anti-Semitic comments (more than once) were an embarrassment to the Democratic party. To her credit, even Speaker Pelosi didn’t let her off the hook. Her dismissive comments about 9/11 and those in the tweet above also didn’t help her case, though Democrats were content to ignore those. And Bump doesn’t even mention the whole weird side-scandal involving her previous marriage and taxes.

Of course there are elements of some of this that are connected to her faith. It wasn’t a coincidence she was speaking to CAIR when she said “some people did something” as shorthand for 9/11. But, again, if you just consider the words alone, I think they would have created just as much trouble for any left-wing Democrat who got caught uttering them. All of it sort of hangs together and suggests Rep. Omar is not very thoughtful or careful with her words at times. That’s always going to be a problem for a politician regardless of their religious commitments. In sum, Bump doesn’t make his case.

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John Stossel 12:40 AM | April 12, 2024
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