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Austin largely greets Ilhan Omar with unity, 'Southern hospitality'

Ariana Garcia and Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in News & Features

AUSTIN, Texas -- For Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Muslim-American freshman congresswoman from Minnesota who has been the object of a menacing tweet from President Donald Trump and the suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that she be bounced from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, her weekend in Austin may be remembered as a relatively placid interlude.

Yes, there were more than two dozen demonstrators outside a North Austin hotel, where Omar spoke Saturday night at the fourth annual Citywide Iftar, a ceremonial dinner during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. But while some were armed with rifles and hostile signs, others held banners and banged drums of welcome.

Inside, Mayor Steve Adler, the guest of honor at the dinner, brushed aside criticism earlier in the week from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller that, as a Jew, Adler should especially keep his distance from Omar. He described the dinner's keynote speaker, the first Somali-American and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, as an "inspiring and wonderful symbol of our country's progress toward real and meaningful representation in government for people who have not previously seen themselves reflected in our democratic institutions."

Just before noon Sunday, Omar, 37, spoke for 10 minutes at the convention of Texas Young Democrats at a South Austin hotel. There were a couple of police cruisers parked out front but not a protester in sight.

In introducing Omar, Jen Ramos, the Texas Young Democrats' unflappable communications director, noted they had "received a lot of criticism and commentary for inviting our guest speaker. But in case you don't know, Texas comes from the word Tejas, which means friendship, and that's the Southern hospitality we are willing to extend to our guests. We welcome everyone. Y'all means y'all."

Omar entered and left to a standing ovation from the hundred Young Democrats in attendance.


Omar talked about the history of the Texas Legislature passing "voter suppression laws," but said, "We are going to defeat those voter suppression laws. We are going to defeat the people who are against seeing a flourishing democracy. We are going to defeat the xenophobics, homophobics, the racists."

"I tell people our democracy is messy, it's on shaky grounds at the moment, but I know all of us are going to do the work of picking up a broom and cleaning it up," Omar said.

During a recent appearance on the "Fox & Friends" news show, Pence asserted that "Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has no place on the House Foreign Affairs Committee," noting what he characterized as her "antisemitic comments, statements against our most cherished ally Israel that ought to be rejected by every American."

In April, Trump tweeted a video interspersing images of the Twin Towers burning on 9/11 with a snippet of a remark Omar made to the Council of American-Islamic Relations in which she said that, "CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something ..."


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