U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar was engulfed in a crowd of cheering supporters Thursday at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a loud counterpoint to a turbulent week in Congress where she came under a sustained rhetorical assault from President Donald Trump and his supporters.
More than 100 people filled the baggage claim area with songs, signs and cheers of “Welcome home, Ilhan,” providing a stark contrast to chants of “Send her back!” that reverberated through a Trump rally in North Carolina just a day before. In brief remarks, a defiant Omar vowed to “continue to be a nightmare to this president, because his policies are a nightmare to us.”
“We are not deterred, we are not frightened, we are ready. We are in the ring,” Omar said before departing for a town hall in south Minneapolis. “We are in the people’s house, and we are going to continue to fight it until we have the America we know we all deserve.”
The enthusiastic welcome capped a contentious week for the Minneapolis Democrat as the president repeatedly used his bully pulpit — and his Twitter megaphone — to single out Omar and three other progressive women of color serving in the U.S. House.
The situation intensified Wednesday when Trump once again lashed out at “the Squad” during a rally in North Carolina, falsely claiming that Omar, a refugee from Somalia, said she loves the terrorist group al-Qaida. Shouts of “Traitor!” and “Send her back!” rose from the crowd.
On Thursday, the president distanced himself from the chants, which echoed words he had tweeted himself just days before.
“I was not happy with it,” he told reporters at the White House, maintaining — despite video evidence to the contrary — that he tried to stop the outburst. “I disagree with it.”
But the president reiterated his criticism of Omar and her colleagues, saying they “have a big obligation — and the obligation is to love your country.”
The Twitter hashtag #IStandWithIlhan trended nationwide Thursday morning, as supporters, presidential candidates and even the rapper Cardi B flocked to her defense. Prominent Republicans, many of whom remained silent in the wake of Trump’s original tweet suggesting Omar and the other three members “go back” to their countries — even though all four are U.S. citizens and three were born here — condemned the chants.
“There’s no place for that kind of talk. I don’t agree with that,” Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, said at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. But like many other Republicans, Emmer stopped short of criticizing the president or his original remarks. He said that while Trump was wrong in his phrasing, “there’s not a racist bone in this president’s body.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn issued a statement criticizing policy proposals backed by liberal Democrats and said the Minnesota Republican does not believe the president is a racist. Rep. Pete Stauber, a fellow freshman Minnesota Republican, did not respond to a request for comment.
The president’s attacks have prompted renewed concerns about the safety of the congresswoman and other members on the receiving end of Trump’s attacks. Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, has already received death threats, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to request a security assessment and increased protection from U.S. Capitol Police.
“It’s crystal clear to me that her life is in imminent danger,” Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., told Politico. “He has threatened the safety of a member of Congress. That takes this to a whole different level.”
Many Omar supporters at the airport rally Thursday echoed those fears.
“I fear for her, I’m afraid for her. I’m afraid something could happen to her,” Linda Garrett-Johnson said.
Garrett-Johnson, who lives in Apple Valley, said she traveled to the airport to show Omar that “Minnesota is standing with her.” She said she was appalled by Trump’s comments.
“I heard things like that growing up a person of color,” said Garrett-Johnson, who is black. “I didn’t ever think that I would ever live to hear it from the president of the United States.”
Political attacks against the congresswoman will likely intensify as the 2020 election nears and Trump seeks to tie Democrats nationwide to Omar and other members of the party’s most liberal wing. While her progressive politics and groundbreaking election to Congress rendered her political celebrity on the left, a series of controversial remarks about Israel and its U.S. backers opened her to bipartisan criticism. National GOP groups have already made Omar’s positions, including controversial comments that were criticized as using anti-Semitic tropes, the subject of e-mail blasts and TV ads.
On Thursday, at least two local organizations reported receiving inflammatory mailers accusing Omar of having a “plan to destroy America.” The mailers arrived in envelopes labeled “Urgent” and “Past Due” and marked as if they had been sent by Xcel Energy, though they were postmarked from Phoenix. In a tweet, Xcel condemned the mail piece and said the company has contacted authorities about the apparent mail fraud.
“It’s clearly a smear, and in the wake of the president’s tweets and the chant last night, if feels extremely Islamophobic and racist,” said Isaiah Breen, spokesman for Jewish Community Action, which received one of the mailers.