WASHINGTON - Unfazed by growing bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann is broadening her allegations of Islamic infiltration in the U.S. government, accusing Democrat Keith Ellison of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group she says is seeking "America's demise."
"He has a long record of being associated with [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] and with the Muslim Brotherhood," Bachmann told conservative radio and TV show host Glenn Beck on Thursday night.
Ellison, whose Minnesota congressional district borders Bachmann's, said Friday that he saw her remarks less as a personal attack than as a broadside against Muslims in public life.
Earlier in the week Ellison was among the first to criticize Bachmann for her allegations against Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- a critique later echoed by GOP House Speaker John Boehner, who termed Bachmann's allegations "dangerous."
Ellison said of Bachmann that, "I knew when I raised the issue of her unfounded accusations of disloyalty, that sooner or later she was going to get around to accusing me. I will say for the record that her allegations are false."
He pointed out that Abedin would have had to pass rigorous background checks to obtain the security clearances needed for her position -- the same security clearances Bachmann now questions.
If her allegations are not challenged, he said, "there literally could be no Muslim who could hold a position of responsibility in government."
Back in Minnesota Friday to headline a fundraiser for Allen Quist, Bachmann declined to speak with reporters or even to allow them in the room with her. About 75 people turned out for the Rochester event, which raised about $9,000 for Quist, who is in a contested GOP primary race for the First District seat. Her lone interaction with journalists was a wave out of a car window and a cheery "bye-bye!" as she drove away.
Quist sought to distance himself from the controversy, saying, "I'm delighted to have her here." Of her comments, he said, "It's not my issue. My issue is the national debt."
"Until they prove her wrong, I'm on Michele's side," said Rochester retiree Clint Swartz. "I heard about all the stuff that's been happening, but I don't know what information she has about that stuff."
A wave of criticism
Boehner's remarks were part of a growing wave of negative reaction from within Bachmann's party, beginning with Arizona Sen. John McCain, who took to the Senate floor Wednesday to defend Abedin.
Bachmann sits on the House Intelligence Committee, a post she has cited in an attempt to give heft to her allegations. But that committee's chairman, Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a former FBI agent, told USA Today that Bachmann's remarks about the Muslim Brotherhood's infiltration efforts are false. "That kind of assertion certainly doesn't comport with the Intelligence Committee, and I can say that on the record," Rogers said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bachmann's charges of Muslim Brotherhood infiltration threaten to reignite an age-old distrust of foreigners. "Every wave of new immigrants to America has faced a wave of ignorance and discrimination," she said. "I would have hoped that this type of discourse no longer existed."
A few Bachmann defenders say the political blowback represents an overabundance of political correctness. Citizens United President David Bossie wrote in Politico's Arena that "it would be the height of folly if, in the name of political correctness, 'diversity,' 'multiculturalism' or a fear of giving offense, the government continues to ignore what our enemies say is their intent to subvert us from within -- and evidence of their success in doing so."
Ellison said it is Bachmann who is trying to silence political foes by questioning their loyalty and patriotism. "That's basically why people don't speak out," he said. "They're afraid they will be accused."
Ellison said he won't seek an apology for himself, but did call on Bachmann to apologize to Abedin. For himself, he said, "I'm not upset. I can take it. I do this for a living. I'm more worried about people who can't fight back."
In Minnesota, Ellison's DFL allies lined up to support him, while Bachmann's GOP House colleagues remained silent.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum called Bachmann's attack "malicious and bigoted."
Sen. Al Franken called Ellison "a patriotic American who's dedicated his life's work to serving the people of Minnesota, and to suggest otherwise is outrageous and offensive."
St. Cloud DFLer Jim Graves, a businessman who is challenging Bachmann in the fall elections, suggested that she is using the firestorm of criticism to rally her base of social conservatives to raise campaign cash.
Also Friday, the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish organization, condemned her statements, saying, "These sweeping accusations by members of Congress against American citizens who are Muslim are unfair and misguided."
Even for Washington, personal attacks between members remain a rarity, said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "She has now escalated this to a very dangerous level," he said.
email@example.com • 651-925-5049 Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.