Rep. Ilhan Omar catapults into the upper echelon of fundraisers among House Democrats

The first Somali American elected to Congress raises more than $800,000 in the first quarter of 2019

By Matthew Rozsa

Published April 16, 2019 4:09PM (EDT)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, (D-MN) (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, (D-MN) (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Ilhan Omar has catapulted into the upper echelon of fundraisers among House Democrats in spite of — or perhaps because of — the recent controversies surrounding her rising political star.

Omar hauled in an astonishing $832,000 in the first quarter of 2019, NBC News reported. Just under half of that total, or $415,000, came from individuals who donated less than $200, according to Politico. Together, these figures suggest a large grassroots support for the freshman congresswoman.

As a result of this fundraising, Omar — who won't face reelection until next year — already has $607,000 in cash on hand as of March 31. Her campaign spent $241,000 within the first months of 2019.

Omar first found herself embroiled in controversy in February when she tweeted an alleged anti-Semitic trope after journalist Glenn Greenwald said, "It's stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans."

Omar wrote, "It's all about the Benjamins baby." When a Jewish journalist asked Omar to clarify what source of money she was referring to with her comment, she responded "AIPAC," a reference to the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

The congresswoman found herself in the headlines again this month after a clip of her speaking to the Council on American-Islamic Relations about the 9/11 terrorist attacks was quoted out of context.

"For far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it," Omar told the audience.

She added, "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. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that, 'This person is looking at me strange. I am not comfortable with it, and I am going to talk to them and ask them why.' Because that is the right you have."

In response to that clip, Brian Kilmeade of "Fox & Friends" asked, "You have to wonder if she's an American first?" The Fox News host later clarified his remarks in a tweet, writing, "I didn't intend to question whether Rep. Omar is an American - I am questioning how any American, let alone a United States Congresswoman, could downplay the 9/11 attacks."

President Donald Trump also attacked Omar over those comments, posting a video on his Twitter account that juxtaposed Omar's speech with footage from the 9/11 attacks. Omar later claimed that Trump's video had caused a spike in threats against her life, tweeting that "since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life ― many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video. I thank the Capitol Police, the FBI, the House Sergeant at Arms and the Speaker of the House for their attention to these threats."

Omar holds the distinctions of being the first Somali American elected to Congress and the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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