The Islamophobia controversy engulfing Rep. Lauren Boebert escalated to a full boil Monday after the Colorado Republican went after Rep. Ilhan Omar in a video following a tense phone call between the two.
Boebert claimed in a video that she sought to deescalate tensions with Omar after a video circulated on social media last week of the conservative lawmaker making anti-Muslim remarks, calling Omar a member of the “jihad squad” and saying the Minnesota Democrat was safe to ride with in a Capitol elevator so long as she wasn’t wearing a backpack.
When Boebert called Omar on Monday, the firebrand freshman said she attempted to explain that she had not meant to impugn Omar’s religion — but the exchange ended with the Democrat continuing to insist on public contrition, to which Boebert herself replied with an insistence on a public apology. The back-and-forth will only ratchet up the friction between the two parties ahead of the House’s return from Thanksgiving break on Tuesday.
It’s the second time this month that a GOP lawmaker has faced blowback for offensive comments about a Democratic colleague. Just before Thanksgiving, House Democrats moved swiftly to punish Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) after he posted an anime video depicting the killing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); Gosar was censured and stripped of his committees.
This time, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team sharply condemned Boebert’s comments but demanded that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy be the one to act against the Coloradan. Omar echoed that sentiment in her own statement on Monday afternoon.
“This is not about one hateful statement or one politician; it is about a party that has mainstreamed bigotry and hatred,” Omar wrote in a statement released after her call with Boebert. “It is time for Republican Leader McCarthy to actually hold his party accountable.”
A spokesperson for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boebert said in her video, posted to Instagram, that she asked Omar to make a public apology “for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.” Omar has criticized the Israeli government in her advocacy for Palestinian rights, running afoul of some in her own party in the past, and supported police reform efforts following law enforcement killings of men and women of color. After the two went back and forth, Omar ended the call.
The episode will put further pressure on McCarthy, who has faced a series of controversies over divisive rhetoric within his ranks. House Republicans would far prefer to focus on their political advantages over Democrats and the Biden administration ahead of the upcoming midterms, rather than tamping down polarizing moments orchestrated by their own members.
It is unclear what, if anything, Democratic leaders will do to address Boebert’s comments beyond the public condemnation they released late last week. Multiple senior Democrats described the situation as fluid, noting that Pelosi and her leadership team won’t even meet until late Tuesday, when the House returns.
In addition, several Democrats privately said they do not want to be lured into a “trap” by Republicans — forced to police every objectionable statement made by GOP lawmakers when McCarthy and other party leaders won’t do anything to rein in their own.
Those Democrats, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations, said the situation with Boebert is also different from Gosar, who posted an animated video of himself killing his colleague and then refused to apologize for it.
Omar’s office argued that GOP leaders have a responsibility to address Boebert’s pattern of “Islamophobic hate speech,” citing other examples of offensive language used against the Minnesota Democrat earlier this year. That includes multiple instances where Boebert has falsely described Omar as an advocate “for state-sponsored terrorism,” declaring her an “honorary member of Hamas” who is a “terrorist sympathizer.”
This month also is not the first time that Boebert has described Omar as part of the “jihad squad.” She also used the term at a campaign event in New York in September.