POLITICS

Rep. Lauren Boebert's comments about Islam, Rep. Ilhan Omar and terrorism explained

Chelsey Cox
USA TODAY

Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert's comments on Islam, terrorism and her Democratic counterpart Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., have landed the Colorado congresswoman in hot water.

Omar alluded to the conflict between her and Boebert in a news conference Tuesday during which she also spoke about hundreds of threats against her life she says were triggered by Republican attacks on her faith.

"We cannot pretend that this hate speech from leading politicians doesn't have real consequences," she said. "The truth is that anti-Muslim hate is on the rise both here at home and around the world."

Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to act, adding he sees action from Republicans as unlikely. He suggested Boebert might face discipline during a House Democrats press conference Wednesday.

"As it relates to consequences for Lauren Boebert, certainly, I think there are active discussions underway to make sure that (she) is held accountable," Jeffries said.

"Words matter. We saw the consequences of dangerous rhetoric on Jan. 6," he added.

The leaders of five Democratic caucuses — Progressive, Black, Asian Pacific American, Equality and Hispanic — also released a statement Wednesday calling for Boebert's removal from committee assignments.

"There must be consequences for vicious workplace harassment and abuse that creates an environment so unsafe for colleagues and staff that it invites death threats against them," read the statement.

What did Boebert say? And why was it offensive? Here's what we know.

What started all of this?

Omar called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and McCarthyto "take appropriate action" after Boebert directed Islamophobic comments toward her during a campaign event in November. The congresswoman called the Minnesota lawmaker "Jihad squad" and insinuated she was a terrorist in a video posted to Twitter by extremist watchdog PatriotTakes.

Omar, who is Muslim, is the first Somali American elected to Congress.

More:Omar calls on House leadership to take 'appropriate action' against Boebert after Islamophobic comments

More:Rep. Debbie Dingell's Michigan office vandalized, window smashed

In the video, Boebert claimed a Capitol police officer ran toward a closing elevator door with Boebert, a staffer and Omar inside.

"I look to my left, and there she is: Ilhan Omar. And I said 'Well, she doesn't have a backpack, we should be fine,'" Boebert said. 

The congresswoman then allegedly turned to Omar and said, "The Jihad squad decided to show up for work today."

In a response to the video, Omar denied the interaction ever happened, adding "Fact, this buffoon looks down when she sees me at the Capitol."

"Anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t funny & shouldn’t be normalized," Omar tweeted last Thursday. "Congress can’t be a place where hateful and dangerous Muslims tropes get no condemnation."

In a statement Friday, Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders called on Boebert "to fully retract these comments and refrain from making similar ones going forward." They also called out House Republican leadership's "repeated failure to condemn inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric from members of their conference."

Has Boebert apologized?

After accusations of Islamophobia from other members of Congress, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. and her Republican colleague Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who called Boebert "TRASH" in a tweet, Boebert apologized Friday "to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar."

"I have reached out to her office to speak with her (Omar) directly. There are plenty of policy differences to focus on without this unnecessary distraction," she tweeted.

Omar and Boebert did speak by phone Monday, but no apology was given, according to a statement released by Omar.

"Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Rep. Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments. She instead doubled down on her rhetoric and I decided to end the unproductive call," she wrote.

Boebert posted a video Monday with a statement on the phone call with Omar, whom she called a "Squad member," a reference to four progressive congresswomen – Omar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. – told by former President Donald Trump to "go back" and fix the countries they "originally came from." Three of the four congresswomen were born in the U.S. 

"I wanted to let her know directly that I had reflected on my previous remarks," Boebert said in the video. She added that as a strong Christian woman, she never wants anything she says to offend someone's religion. "Even after I put out a public statement to that effect, she said that she still wanted a public apology because what I had done wasn't good enough."

Boebert said she instead told Omar to make a public apology to the American people for her "anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric." 

"And then Representative Omar hung up on me," she said. Boebert accused Omar of participating in "cancel culture" in the video and vowed to call out "anti-Americanism" and "failed Democrat policies."

"Make no mistake, I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists. Unfortunately, Ilhan can't say the same thing," she said. 

Has Boebert said anything like this in the past?

Boebert has targeted Omar with Islamophobic comments before.

On Nov. 17, as the House deliberated a motion to censure Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for posting a violent anime-style video on Twitter that depicted him killing Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Biden, Boebert called Omar "the Jihad squad member from Minnesota" and said Omar is "allowed on the Foreign Affairs committee while praising terrorists. 

In May, Boebert tweeted that Omar "should decide whether she wants to be a Congresswoman or a full-time propagandist for Hamas," in reference to the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip in Palestinian territory.

A week later, Boebert addressed members of "the Squad" in another tweet, saying if Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib "think their job is to lobby for Hamas they need to register as foreign agents."

"They should be representing their districts. They can Google them if they’ve forgotten. But with the leadership vacuum in Hamas, maybe they're applying for new jobs?" she added.

Boebert again accused Omar of belonging to Hamas in June, calling the Minnesota congresswoman "an honorary member of Hamas."

Jeremy Slevin, spokesperson for Omar, told USA TODAY the congresswoman has never had an association with Hamas.

Omar has also spoken out against the militant group. In May, she condemned Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.

What's the rest of Congress been like?

The incident is one example of multiple heated altercations between members of Congress amid intense negotiations over President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill. Most Republicans opposed the legislation, which passed in November

The House voted to censure Gosar in November and stripped him of committee assignments.

More:House votes to censure Rep. Paul Gosar for posting violent video depicting attacks on Biden, AOC

In September, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Minn., got into a shouting match with conservative Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Greene was also removed from committee assignments in February for inflammatory social media posts and for promoting conspiracy theories.

Follow Chelsey Cox on Twitter @therealco.