A new interview with Rep. Ilhan Omar in which she appears to criticize former President Barack Obama as insufficiently progressive is the latest example of the freshman congresswoman’s penchant for taking on the Democratic Party establishment, though she later disputed the report’s characterization of her remarks.
In an interview published Friday, Politico quoted the Minnesota Democrat as dismissing the “hope and change” promoted by Obama as a “mirage” – though she wasn’t quoted using that word – and she also criticized Obama for the “caging of kids” and “droning of countries around the world.”
Omar also told Politico, “We can’t be only upset with Trump. … His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.
“And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”
The story characterized her description of Obama’s policies as functioning within the same “fundamentally broken framework” as Trump, though Omar didn’t cite Obama by name in that section of the published material.
Omar and her office later disputed the reporting. In a response to CNN, Omar’s spokesman Jeremy Slevin argued that the paragraphs in question were not about Obama, but did not specify who Omar was referring to in particular.
“I’m an Obama fan! I was saying how Trump is different from Obama, and why we should focus on policy not politics,” Omar tweeted, calling the story an example of the media trying to “distort words.”
She also tweeted an audio file that included fuller comments on the Obama policy issues that she referenced, including her differentiating between the ways in which Obama and Trump implemented them.
“For many of us, we think of ourselves as Democrats, but many of the ways that our Democratic leaders have conducted themselves within the system is not one that we’re all proud of,” she said in the clip.
“I will talk about the family separation or caging of kids and people will point out that this was Trump, I mean, this was Obama,” Omar added. “And I will say something about the droning of countries around the world and people will say, that was Obama. And all of that is very true. What is happening now is very different – it’s happening with secrecy, it’s happening with the feel good, polished way of talking about it.”
On Saturday morning, the tweet had been deleted from Omar’s account. CNN has reached out to the congresswoman’s office for comment.
While progressives have criticized Obama in the past, Omar’s comments – on the heels of a tumultuous week that saw her comments on pro-Israel lobbying shake up Congress – serve as another reminder of how the incoming class of rising star Democratic lawmakers is challenging the party’s status quo.
Already this week, Omar has forced House Democrats to reckon with new perspectives on Israel within the party. Her comments last week implying that pro-Israel lawmakers are under a “political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country” prompted a House vote Thursday on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.
Last month, Omar faced criticism for tweets insinuating that the pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee was effectively buying off US politicians. The Minnesota Democrat subsequently apologized after demands from Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and other members of House Democratic leadership, who urged that anti-Semitism be called out “without exception.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.