By Dana Milbank Columnist|
I’m old enough to remember when Republican leaders still had souls.
Twenty years ago, I was on the White House beat for The Post when President George W. Bush, six days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, set aside his war planning efforts long enough to visit the mosque at the Islamic Center of Washington to admonish Americans not to take out their anger on innocent Muslims. I went to the mosque, on Massachusetts Avenue overlooking Rock Creek Park, and reported on the presidential visit:Opinions to start the day, in your inbox. Sign up.“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” said the president, escorted by Islamic clerics into the ornate mosque full of Turkish tile, Persian rugs and Egyptian paintings. “Islam is peace.”Quoting from the Koran’s prohibitions against evil, Bush said women who cover their heads should not fear leaving their homes. “That’s not the America I know,” he said. “That should not and that will not stand in America.”
Some conservatives objected at the time to Bush’s pro-Islam appeals, and pointed out, correctly, that he gained nothing politically from this message. But he gained much morally.
Contrast that with Republican officials’ latest actions over the holiday weekend, while the rest of the country paused to express gratitude for our many blessings. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a QAnon-admiring Republican, referred to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is Muslim, as part of a “Jihad Squad” and told an audience a false story of a worried Capitol Police officer chasing down Omar. Boebert claimed she said: “Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine.”
Boebert at first apologized “to anyone in the Muslim community I offended” with her Muslims-are-terrorists message. Nominal House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) issued a statement that avoided criticism of Boebert’s words. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), whose support McCarthy needs to remain GOP leader, criticized Boebert — for apologizing. “Never apologize to Islamic terrorist sympathizers,” she wrote, repeating the “Jihad Squad” phrase.
After rejecting Omar’s request for a public apology on Monday, Boebert released a video expanding the original slander. “I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists,” Boebert said. “Unfortunately, Ilhan can’t say the same thing.”
House Democrats are going through the now-routine deliberations about whether to censure Boebert, or remove her from committees. Why bother? It would give Boebert the martyrdom she desires, just as previous punishments did for Greene (who posted a threatening image of her holding an assault riflenext to Omar and other Democrats) and Rep. Paul Gosar (the Arizona Republican who posted an anime video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York).
Rather, Democrats ought to call the bluff of those Republicans who insist they be given the chance to police their own ranks. That’s the excuse Tom Cole (Okla.), ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, used when he opposed punishing Gosar. “The majority can and should leave the matter up to Leader McCarthy and the Republican Conference,” he said when letting Gosar off the hook. He similarly excused Greene, who before entering Congress also embraced antisemitic comments and a remark about assassinating House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Will Cole speak out against the latest bigoted, violent fantasy from a colleague? Or wait a few days for it to be eclipsed by the next outrage?
There have always been clowns like Greene, Gosar and Boebert. Over the past two decades, the Rev. Jerry Falwell referred to the prophet Mohammed as a “terrorist,” the Rev. Franklin Graham called Islam “evil,” Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson likened Muslims to Hitler, and conservative activist Paul Weyrich condemned Bush’s “constant promotion of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance” because “it is neither.”
But Bush overruled the haters. Repeatedly during the months after the 9/11 attacks, he appealed to Americans:
“Muslim members of our armed forces and of my administration are serving their fellow Americans with distinction.”
“Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not.”
“This great nation of many religions understands our war is not against Islam. … Our war is a war against evil.”
“The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”
There’s plenty to fault in the Bush presidency and its wars, but his defense of Muslim Americans was the essence of moral leadership. “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger,” he said at the Washington mosque that day in 2001, “represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.” America “is a great country,” he said, “because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth.”
Twenty years later, Boebert, Gosar, Greene and too many of their colleagues have abandoned those shared values. And Republican leaders, divesting themselves of shame, now tolerate the worst of humankind.
Boebert Reaches Out to Omar After Incendiary Video, Escalating a Feud ~ NYT
Representative Lauren Boebert made an overture to Representative Ilhan Omar after suggesting that the Muslim lawmaker was a terrorism threat. The call did not go well.
Nov. 29, 2021
WASHINGTON — Some gulfs are too wide to bridge, but it appeared at first as if Representative Lauren Boebert, the far-right Republican from Colorado, was trying to do so on Monday when she reached out to Representative Ilhan Omar, the progressive Democrat from Minnesota.
Ms. Boebert, a freshman who has built her brief political career on incendiary comments and right-wing provocations, angered Democrats over the Thanksgiving break when a video surfaced of her suggesting that Ms. Omar, a Muslim who wears a hijab, could be a suicide bomber, and bragging to constituents about confronting Ms. Omar on an elevator with an Islamophobic epithet.
On Monday, Ms. Boebert reached out to Ms. Omar, ostensibly to apologize. It did not go well.
Ms. Omar has said the elevator incident never happened, but the two lawmakers’ accounts of Monday’s phone call do not differ much, down to Ms. Omar abruptly hanging up on Ms. Boebert. Both came away doubly aggrieved — Ms. Omar calling the apology woefully inadequate and Ms. Boebert proclaiming herself a victim of a hypersensitive political culture.
“Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Representative Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments,” Ms. Omar said in a statement after the brief call. “She instead doubled down on her rhetoric, and I decided to end the unproductive call.”
Specifically, Ms. Boebert called to tell her adversary that she was a “strong Christian woman” and had erred when she attacked Ms. Omar on her Muslim faith instead of on the issues that divide them, said Ben Stout, Ms. Boebert’s press secretary. She said she should not have recounted to supporters how she brushed aside a Capitol Police officer’s apparent worry about her sharing an elevator with Ms. Omar after noticing that the Democratic congresswoman was not wearing a backpack, nor should she have called her a member of the “jihad squad.”
Ms. Omar then demanded a public apology, so, Ms. Boebert said in a video on Instagram, “I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, antisemitic, anti-police rhetoric. She continued to press, and I continued to press back.”
The two women have their fans and detractors, but they could not be more different. Ms. Omar, a Somali refugee and a leader of the House Progressive Caucus, represents a diverse and liberal district that includes most of Minneapolis and its near-in suburbs. Ms. Boebert, the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colo., which she reopened during the pandemic against state orders and where servers are encouraged to carry guns, unseated a five-term Republican in 2020 by running far to his right in a largely rural mountain district.Sign Up for On Politics A guide to the political news cycle, cutting through the spin and delivering clarity from the chaos. Get it sent to your inbox.
Ms. Omar has had her run-ins with Jewish members of Congress, including Democrats, who saw her criticism of Israel as swerving into antisemitic tropes. Many Democrats have distanced themselves from the “defund the police” movement that Ms. Omar has embraced.
But Democrats are not about to allow Ms. Boebert to lecture them on probity, not after she embraced the lie that the 2020 election was rigged and tweeted information about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s whereabouts during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Her vow to bring guns onto the House floor prompted Democratic leaders to install metal detectors at the entrances — a constant reminder of the ill will that separates the parties.
The entire House Democratic leadership released a joint statement on Friday calling out Ms. Boebert’s “racism” and the Republican leadership’s “repeated failure to condemn inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric from members of their conference.”
“Congresswoman Boebert’s repeated, ongoing and targeted Islamophobic comments and actions against another member of Congress, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, are both deeply offensive and concerning,” Democratic leaders wrote.
But after censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, and stripping him of his committee assignments for posting a doctored video depicting him slashing the neck of a Democratic House member, and kicking Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, off her committees for social media posts calling for violence against Democrats, House leaders were not rushing to punish Ms. Boebert.
And Ms. Boebert, sensing political opportunity, was not about to back down.
“Rejecting an apology and hanging up on someone is cancel culture 101 and a pillar of the Democrat Party,” she said in her video statement.
“I think whenever, even in our own caucus, our own members, if they go the wrong direction, I mean, it has to be called out. It has to be dealt with, particularly whenever it is breaching the civility, whenever it is crossing the line in terms of violence or increasing the divide in our country,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
And Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of the two Republicans who voted to rebuke Gosar this month, tweeted that Boebert is “TRASH.”