- Ilhan OmarDemocratic congressmember from Minnesota.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump called for bipartisan unity while he attacked Democrats and the Robert Mueller investigation, denounced efforts to expand abortion rights in Virginia and New York, attacked immigrants and reiterated his demand for a border wall—with no mention of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which delayed his address by a week. Women in Congress wore all white to the speech in a nod to the movement for women’s suffrage. After the address, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams made history, becoming the first African-American woman to give the Democratic response. We’re joined by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the first Somali American elected to the House of Representatives and one of the first Muslim women in Congress. Her guest at last night’s presidential address was a Liberian woman who fled to Minnesota in 2000 due to civil war and is now facing the threat of deportation from the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump called for bipartisan unity while he attacked Democrats and the Robert Mueller investigation.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The president spent much of his speech focused on the southern border. He repeated his vow to build a border wall.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As we speak, large organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught. This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all America.
AMY GOODMAN: On the international front, President Trump announced plans to hold another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, we’ll be speaking with Congressmember Ilhan Omar. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “I’m an Alien” by Rebel Diaz. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at President Trump’s State of the Union address. On the international front, he announced plans to hold another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam beginning February 27th. He also defended his decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a landmark nuclear arms deal with Russia. Trump went on to threaten a new nuclear arms race.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others. Or perhaps we can’t, in which case we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In other international news, President Trump warned against endless wars in the Middle East, while boasting about recent U.S.-backed efforts to topple the Venezuelan government. On the domestic front, he criticized the state of New York for passing a law codifying a woman’s right to an abortion.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children, who can feel pain in a mother’s womb.
AMY GOODMAN: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded on Twitter by writing, quote, “Breaking: @realDonaldTrump just proposed rolling back Roe—the law of our nation for 46 years affirmed & reaffirmed by numerous Supreme Courts. Never. NY has a message to those who spread lies & fear to control women’s reproductive health: Not gonna happen. Not now, not ever,” Cuomo tweeted.
Trump did not mention the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which even delayed his speech by a week. But former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams did, as she made history as the first African-American woman to give the Democratic response.
STACEY ABRAMS: Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope, since they hadn’t received paychecks in weeks. Making livelihoods of our federal workers a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people but our values.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by another history-making woman, Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. She’s the first Somali American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress and the first hijab-wearing congressmember. She is a Somali-American refugee.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! and want to start off by asking you: As you sat there wearing red, white and blue last night, your hijab blue, what was your response to President Trump’s State of the Union address?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: Thank you, Amy, for having me.
It was a really bizarre State of the Union address, that kind of went along with the bizarrely scripted House of Cards scene that we just recently witnessed with the longest shutdown of our nation’s history of 35 days. You know, I expected there to be a presidential address. I expected there to be an acknowledgment of the workers that he just used as a political football. I expected there to be some imagination, a plan. It really felt like a pedestrian address. And I was taken aback by the lack of planning, vision and interest that really went into bringing a unified message.
Also, I would also say, for this particular address, there seemed to be lots of hypocrisies. You know, he talked about welcoming legal immigration as much as possible. But we know that he limited the number of refugees that could enter this country. One of my guests was a legal immigrant from Liberia who has a DED status, that he signed to end in March. He talked about ending endless wars in the Middle East, while he seemed to be excited about showing our military might. He talked about working with us in regards to reducing pharmaceutical prices, you know, getting an infrastructure bill, while at the same time he talked about the Democrats and the constitutionally called-for check and balance that we have in continuing the investigation to his administration.
So, it just did not feel very well thought out. It didn’t feel like, you know, that this was the address that the people were waiting for. And I would say my sister Stacey and Bernie delivered more of a State of the Union address than the occupant of the White House did.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, Congressmember, there were many—obviously, many of the Democratic women were wearing white, in this striking visual. At one point, the president remarked about the progress of women in the workforce in America, and all of the Democratic women stood up and cheered. And it seemed to unnerve him a little bit. I’m wondering if you could comment on the impact of that, of the solidarity among especially all the new women, like yourself, who are now members of Congress.
REP. ILHAN OMAR: I think when he made that point, I don’t think he was clued in to the fact that he was celebrating this wave of women who have now been elected to Congress. So, we took that opportunity to really celebrate ourselves. Most of us are in Congress also replacing male members. So, the fact that Congress now looks more representative was one that we wanted to celebrate. And I don’t know if he actually understood that.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that clip. This is President Trump talking about what Juan just described, the women in Congress.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before. And exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before.
CONGRESSMEMBERS: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That’s great. Very great. And congratulations. That’s great.
AMY GOODMAN: We also wanted to get your response, Congressmember Omar, to what’s happening in Venezuela. Two weeks ago, you tweeted, “A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.” Let’s go to President Trump’s comments on Venezuela.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: [Two weeks ago, the United States officially] recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela and its new president, Juan Guaidó. We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom, and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair. Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.
CONGRESSMEMBERS: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump, speaking at his State of the Union address, the camera focusing in on Bernie Sanders as he spoke. Congressmember Ilhan Omar, if you could respond on both of those issues, on Venezuela and socialism?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: The president seems to be divorced from reality, really. We saw that when he made the comment in celebrating the wave of new members of Congress who are women. He didn’t seem to recognize that most of us got elected in resisting his disastrous policies and steering our country into the right direction.
He also seems to be divorced from reality when we’re talking about the situation that’s unfolding in Venezuela. You know, we understand that there is a crisis, and we believe in furthering democracy, but it is really important that we caution ourselves from getting involved and further—furthering suffering in countries like Venezuela. When he talks about the humanitarian crisis, when he talks about the need for the people of Venezuela to have self-determination, you know, I think back to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen, that the United States is assisting, that is the worst humanitarian crisis. Over 800,000 people have faced starvation. And so, when we see this president make remarks, it really becomes easily visible to see how divorced he truly is from reality.
I remember that most of us were laughing when he made the comment around socialism. What we advocate for, what Bernie, myself, you know, Alexandria, Rashida, what we advocate for, is an America that is prosperous, an America that makes sure that everybody has access to jobs, everybody has access to housing, everybody has access to healthcare, that we don’t have an America where people are dying because they can’t afford insulin, that we don’t have an America where people are dying because they don’t have a home and they’re freezing outside, and an America where we deal with our homeless crises.
And so, when I hear him speak, there is a reality that he seems to be clearly divorced. I don’t know if he knows how popular Medicare for all is. I don’t know if he understands how popular freeing students from the shackles of debt is. I don’t know if he understands how popular it is for us to critically address climate change. So, clearly, clearly, he lacks leadership, and it’s going to be really important for the next year for us to find someone who can lead our nation into prosperity and who is not going to be a liar-in-chief in the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ilhan Omar, do you consider yourself a Democratic Socialist?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: I consider myself a Democrat.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congresswoman, I’d like to ask you about another portion of the president’s speech. In his address, he criticized Iran, calling the country, quote, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.” This is what he said.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, the radical regime in Iran. It is a radical regime. They do bad, bad things. To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed by us on a country. We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants “Death to America” and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Trump last night. Your response not only to the confrontational, extremely confrontational, attitude of the United States administration of President Trump via Iran, and, of course, most of the other European countries that participated in the negotiations of the accords with Iran don’t agree with the United States?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: Again, another example of how he’s clearly divorced from reality. This is a president who has cozied up to Saudi Arabia. And to make a statement like that with a straight face really showed how disillusioned he is with reality. And I think, you know, the kind of hypocrisy that goes with saying that we can’t continue to fight endless wars, but he stands there and also speaks of, you know, aggressions that he wants to be part of in, again, that part of the world, to me, just shows how this president is a liar-in-chief, how this president isn’t really rooted in any reality, how this president can no longer lead this country, and the work that we need to do to make sure that we have a leader that understands that there is a difference between diplomacy, and there’s a difference between starting or aggravating wars.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Trump’s applauding the decision, his own, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is what he said.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One of the most complex set of challenges we face, and have for many years, is in the Middle East. Our approach is based on principle, realism, not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress. For this reason, my administration recognized the true capital of Israel and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Omar, I wanted to get your response to that. And also, just before the State of the Union address yesterday, senators passed a bill that included the controversial “anti-BDS” provision aimed at preventing opposition to the Israeli government here in the United States by allowing state and local governments to sanction U.S. companies who boycott Israel. The bill also includes an amendment opposing an immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria. If you could respond to all of these things?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: The move of the embassy was one that was widely criticized. It is not, I think, a move that lends itself to creating a positive environment, a peaceful environment in that region. I have, you know, for a long time spoken about the kind of policies that we need to have in that part of the region, what it means for there to be peace, and how we can’t divorce justice from peace. And it’s going to be really important that we have people not only in Congress, but in the White House, who truly understand that.
And the bill that passed was one that is similar to one that I voted against in the Minnesota House. It’s one that has been making the rounds around the country in different statehouses. It’s one that exists really to drive a wedge between Democrats and score political points for Republicans. And I just urge my colleagues to not take the bait. It’s really important for us to focus on protecting the constitutional rights of people and making sure that there is an opportunity for people in this country to fully utilize their First Amendment.
AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about The Intercept’s report that a top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told health insurance executives from Blue Cross Blue Shield that Democratic leadership had major objections to Medicare for all and would continue to try to block single-payer healthcare. In a December presentation, Pelosi adviser Wendell Primus said strengthening the Affordable Care Act, lowering drug prices were instead the priorities for the party. Can you respond to this, Congressmember?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: We have a guarantee that the bill will have a hearing. So, I’m looking forward to finally having that scheduled. I know that Congresswoman Jayapal has been working really hard. And there—as the whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I look forward to not only having conversations with our caucus members, but with the Democratic Caucus, and maybe even getting some Republicans on board.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted—
REP. ILHAN OMAR: Because this is—this is a policy that is supported by the majority of Americans. And I know that when we are talking about policies like that, we can’t just talk about them as a bipartisan policy here in Congress, but we have to look at it as a bipartisan issue with the American people. And it’s in the interest of all members of Congress to legislate on behalf of the people who elected them.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congressmember, I’d like to ask you about the portion of the president’s speech that he spent the most time on, which is on the issue of immigration and the wall that he insists needs to be built, although he’s changing the definition of the wall or concept of the wall with every day. I wanted to ask you about his continued urging that Congress must pass legislation that includes money for his wall.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond?
REP. ILHAN OMAR: Ah. That really—that part of the speech was very difficult to be present for. You know, I am someone who fully understands the struggles that people go through to get here, to look for an opportunity in the United States. There is a famous poem that says, you know, no one leaves for the mouth of the shark unless the mouth of the shark is safer than home. And to have a president that continues to demonize immigrants and to speak of humans as aliens and to not recognize that seeking asylum isn’t illegal is really devastating.
I brought a recipient of DED, which is delayed enforced departure, from Liberia, who arrived in this country in 2000 because of the civil war that was happening in Liberia. And for me, it’s someone I fully connect with. I left my home country of Somalia because of the civil war. I am the few fortunate ones who come here with a refugee status who automatically have a permanent status in this country. Hers was a temporary one. And because of our immigration system, she is now living with the challenges of not being able to permanently start a life here. For 18 years, she has lived through this broken immigration system, trying her best to go to school, to work, to become a taxpayer, to contribute to her society, to become a member of her church, to give back in every way that she can. She left a 2-year-old son that she hasn’t seen, and for over a decade she has been applying for a permanent status. Her brother, who is a citizen of the United States, has filed papers for her. But because the system is so broken, people don’t really have a path to permanency.
And so, what we wanted to hear from the president was a plan, a plan on how we give people a peace of mind, a permanent status to be here, to continue their lives. Being in this country for 18 years, for 20 years, for 30 years, means that you no longer have a home elsewhere. This is home. This is where your friends are. This is where the members of your church, the members of your mosque, the members of your synagogue—whatever the case may be, this is home. And so, for the president not to recognize that these are humans, there are humans behind the policies that we debate, is really dangerous, because he continues to fan the flames of hate, and he continues to use the issues around immigration as one that is divisive and one that continues to instill fear in our communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ilhan Omar, we want to thank you for being with us for today’s response to the State of the Union address. Congressmember Omar represents the 5th Congressional District in Minnesota, first Somali American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of two Muslim women first elected to the House of Representatives and the first hijab-wearing member of the House of Representatives.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we speak with an activist who was invited to the State of the Union address by New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “If I Was President” by Las Cafeteras, here on Democracy Now! in the Democracy Now! studios. You can see the whole interview with them at Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.