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Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (born October 4, 1981) is a Somali-American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district since 2019. The district is based in Minneapolis and also includes Edina, Richfield, St. Louis Park, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley and Fridley. Omar was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016 on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party line, which made her the first Somali American elected to legislative office in the United States. On November 6, 2018, she became the first naturalized citizen from Africa and first Somali-American elected to the United States Congress. Along with Rashida Tlaib, she was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. representative from Minnesota.
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Minnesota's 5th district
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2019
|Preceded by||Keith Ellison|
|Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives|
from the 60B district
January 2, 2017 – January 3, 2019
|Preceded by||Phyllis Kahn|
|Succeeded by||Mohamud Noor|
Ilhan Abdullahi Omar
(1981-10-04) October 4, 1981 (age 37)
Ahmed Nur Said Elmi
(m. 2009; div. 2017)
Ahmed Hirsi (m. 2018)
|Education||North Dakota State University (BA)|
Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (born October 4, 1981) is a Somali-American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district since 2019. The district is based in Minneapolis and also includes Edina, Richfield, St. Louis Park, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley and Fridley.
Omar was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016 on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party line, which made her the first Somali American elected to legislative office in the United States. On November 6, 2018, she became the first naturalized citizen from Africa and first Somali-American elected to the United States Congress. Along with Rashida Tlaib, she was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. representative from Minnesota.
A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Omar has advocated for a living wage, affordable housing and healthcare, student loan debt forgiveness, the protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and the abolition of ICE. She has strongly opposed the immigration policies of the Trump administration, including the Trump travel ban.
Omar was born on October 4, 1981, in Mogadishu and spent her early years in Baydhabo, Somalia. She was the youngest of seven siblings. Her father, Nur Omar Mohamed, a Somali, worked as a teacher trainer. Her mother, Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, was a Benadiri, and died when Omar was two years old. She was thereafter raised by her father and grandfather. Her grandfather, Abukar, was the director of Somalia's National Marine Transport, with her uncles and aunts also working as civil servants and educators. After the start of Somali Civil War in 1991, she and her family fled the country and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
In 1995, Omar and her family's application to be resettled as refugees in the U.S. was approved, and they initially settled in Arlington, Virginia. In 1995, they moved to Minneapolis, where she learned English. Her father worked initially as a taxi driver, later as a postal office worker. Her father and grandfather emphasized during her upbringing the importance of democracy, and she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings at age 14, serving as his interpreter. Omar became a U.S. citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old. She has spoken about being bullied for wearing a hijab during her time in Virginia, recalling classmates sticking gum on her hijab, pushing her down stairs, and jumping her when changing for gym class. Omar remembers her father's reaction to these incidents: "They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence.”
Omar attended Edison High School, and volunteered there as a student organizer. She graduated from North Dakota State University with bachelor's degrees in political science and international studies in 2011.
Omar was a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Omar began her professional career as a community nutrition educator at the University of Minnesota, working in that capacity from 2006 to 2009 in the Greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. In 2012, she served as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic's reelection campaign for the Minnesota State Senate. Between 2012 and 2013, she was a child nutrition outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education.
In 2013, Omar managed Andrew Johnson's campaign for Minneapolis City Council. After Johnson was elected, she served as his Senior Policy Aide from 2013 to 2015. During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and incurred some injuries. According to MinnPost, the day before the caucus, Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame had told Johnson to warn Omar not to attend the meeting.
As of September 2015, Omar was the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network. The association advocates for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.
In September 2018, Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call called Omar a "progressive rising star."
In 2016, Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 60B, which includes part of northeast Minneapolis. On August 9, Omar defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary. Her chief opponent in the general election was Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, also an activist in the Somali American community. In late August, Askar announced his withdrawal from the campaign. In November 2016, Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the United States. Her term began on January 3, 2017.
During her tenure as state Representative for District 60B, Omar was an Assistant Minority Leader for the DFL caucus. She authored or co-authored at least 266 bills during the 2017-2018 legislative session.
In 2018, Republican state representative Steve Drazkowski publicly accused Omar of campaign finance violations, claiming that she used $2,250 in campaign funds to pay a divorce lawyer in 2017, and that her acceptance of speaking fees from public colleges violated Minnesota House rules. Omar responded that the attorney's fees were not personal but campaign-related; she offered to return the speaking fees. Drazkowski later accused Omar of using state resources and staff for private business, and purchasing plane tickets for personal travel with campaign money, including $3,000 in trips to Estonia and other locations.
In response to an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune arguing that Omar should be more transparent about her use of campaign funds, she suggested the criticisms were politically motivated, saying: "these people are part of systems that have historically been disturbingly motivated to silence, discredit and dehumanize influencers who threaten the establishment.”
On June 5, 2018, Omar filed to run for the U.S. House from Minnesota's 5th congressional district after six-term incumbent DFLer Keith Ellison announced he would not seek re-election. (Ellison instead ran successfully for Attorney General of Minnesota.) On June 17, she was endorsed by the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party after two rounds of voting. Omar won the August 14 primary with 48.2% of the vote. She faced health care worker and conservative activist Jennifer Zielinski in the November 6 general election. She won with 78.0% of the vote, becoming the first Somali American elected to the U.S. Congress, the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota, and (alongside former Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib) one of the first Muslim women elected to the U.S. Congress. She had virtually assured herself of a seat in Congress with her victory in the DFL primary. With a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+26, the 5th is the most Democratic district in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. The DFL has held the seat without interruption since 1963, and the Republicans have not tallied more than 40 percent of the vote in almost half a century.
Omar received the largest percentage of the vote of any female candidate for U.S. House in state history, as well as the largest percentage of the vote for a non-incumbent candidate for U.S. House (excluding those running against only non-major-party candidates) in state history. She was sworn in on a copy of the Quran owned by her grandfather.
|116th Congress (2019–21)|
|Party leadership and caucus memberships|
According to a campaign staffer in 2018, Omar identifies as a democratic socialist. However, unlike Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who were also elected to Congress in 2018, Omar was neither a member of nor endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America.
Omar has stated she is in favor of the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She supports prosecuting federal officials who have been accused of physical and sexual assault of people in their detention.[non-primary source needed] She supports the protection of sanctuary cities and a path to permanent status for DREAMers and their families.[non-primary source needed] She opposes efforts to militarize the border, calling Donald Trump's border wall plan "racist and sinful".
Omar has called to reduce funding for "perpetual war and military aggression".[clarification needed]
Omar has criticized Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen. In October 2018, she tweeted: "The Saudi government might have been strategic at covering up the daily atrocities carried out against minorities, women, activists and even the #YemenGenocide, but the murder of #JamalKhashoggi should be the last evil act they are allowed to commit." She also called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia's regime, tweeting: "#BDSSaudi". The Saudi Arabian government responded by having dozens of anonymous Twitter accounts it controlled post tweets critical of Omar.
During her time in the Minnesota legislature, Omar was critical of the Israeli government and opposed a law intended to restrict the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. She compared the movement to people who "engage[d] in boycotts" of apartheid in South Africa. During her House campaign, she said she did not support the BDS movement, describing it as counterproductive to peace. After the election, her position changed, as her campaign office told Muslim Girl that she supports the BDS movement despite "reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution". Omar has voiced support for a two-state solution to resolve the decades-old Israeli–Palestinian conflict. She criticized Israel's settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
In 2018, Omar came under criticism for statements she made about Israel before she was in the Minnesota legislature, which the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported had "earned her notoriety in the pro-Israel community." In a 2012 tweet, she wrote, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel." The comment, particularly the notion that Israelis had "hypnotized the world," was criticized as drawing on anti-semitic tropes. New York Times columnist Bari Weiss wrote that Omar's statement tied into a millennia-old "conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator". When asked in an interview how she would respond to American Jews who found the remark offensive, Omar replied, "I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war." Later, after reading Weiss's commentary, Omar apologized for not "disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used".
In February 2019, Democratic leaders criticized Omar for tweets that appeared to imply that money spent by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was the primary motivation for American politicians' support of Israel. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn criticized the tweets, with the Democratic House leadership releasing a statement that called Omar's tweets antisemitic and "deeply offensive." The Jewish Democratic Council of America also denounced her statements. Omar issued an apology the next day, stating, "I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes", adding, "I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry".
Omar supports a $15 hourly minimum wage.
In January 2019, amid the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis, Omar joined Democrats Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard in denouncing the Trump administration's decision to recognize Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as the new president of Venezuela. She said that the U.S. should not "hand pick" foreign leaders, adding that the U.S. should support "Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue", that Trump's action was a "U.S. backed coup", and that Guaidó was part of the "far-right opposition", a view not shared by most congressional Democrats; Guaidó's party has been described as holding center-left positions.
In February 2019, Omar questioned whether Elliott Abrams, who was appointed by Donald Trump as Special Representative for Venezuela in January 2019, was the correct choice given his past support of right-wing authoritarian regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, his initial doubts about the number of reported deaths in the El Mozote massacre in 1982, and his two 1991 misdemeanor convictions for withholding information from Congress about the Iran–Contra affair, for which he was later pardoned by George H. W. Bush. Conservative critics argued that this focus was misplaced in light of the crisis in Venezuela. Abrams pointed to the fact that El Salvador is a democracy.
In 2017, Time magazine named Omar among its "Firsts: Women who are changing the world", a special report on 46 women who broke barriers in their respective disciplines, and featured her on the cover of its September 18 issue. Her family was named one of the "five families who are changing the world as we know it" by Vogue in their February 2018 issue featuring photographs by Annie Leibovitz.
In 2002, Omar became engaged to Ahmed Hirsi (né Aden). The couple applied for a marriage license, but the application was not finalized. The couple had two children together before separating in 2008. In 2009, Omar married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen. In 2011, she and Elmi had a faith-based divorce, and that year she reconciled with Hirsi. Omar and Hirsi had a third child in 2012. In 2017, Elmi and Omar were legally divorced, and in 2018, Omar and Hirsi were legally married. Omar, Hirsi, and their three children live in Minneapolis.
History was on Ilhan Omar’s mind as she arrived in Washington DC this week. The 36-year-old Democrat from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district became the first Somali-American, one of two Muslim women, among the unprecedented number of women lawmakers, and part of the largest congressional black caucus elected to the US House of Representatives.
Bari Weiss, a New York Times columnist, explained to Omar why many Jews found it so offensive in a biting commentary last week that prompted Omar to backpedal and apologize for not putting enough energy into “disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used.”
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota's 5th congressional district
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Representatives by seniority
(ordered by district)
|Other states' delegations|
Members of the United States House of Representatives
|116th||Senate: A. Klobuchar • T. Smith||House: C. Peterson • B. McCollum • T. Emmer • A. Craig • J. Hagedorn • I. Omar • D. Phillips • P. Stauber|