Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) offered conditional support for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) Thursday, expressing concern about her "mindset," but defending her as young, new to the role, and likely to change her views.
Connolly condemned Omar's comments in a Tuesday interview, but also qualified that she deserved a chance to grow into her role. Speaking with CNN's Poppy Harlow, Connolly had to defend his soft touch with the congresswoman despite her comments.
"She's a member of Congress," Harlow said. "This isn't a new statement. This is a series of statements that is deeply offensive to many Jewish-Americans, many Americans. And I'm wondering if you are concerned with how far back it goes."
Connolly agreed. "I am concerned that anyone with a history of anti-semitism frankly needs to confront their own words and understand their impact." He went further, raising concern with what might have motivated Omar to once again make bigoted comments. "Obviously we also need to understand the mindset behind it," he said.
Omar has been under scrutiny this week after she made a series of ill-advised tweets concerning Jewish Americans, Israel, and the United States government. Omar peddled in anti-Semitic stereotypes, mischaracterized a pro-Israel lobbying group, and garnered praise from the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. In a tweet Sunday afternoon, Omar shared a tweet from far-left journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald claimed McCarthy was "defending a foreign nation' and "attacking free speech rights of Americans."
In reply, Omar claimed elected officials acted for Israel out of financial interest. "It's all about the Benjamins baby," she said. The reference is to $100 bills, which have Benjamin Franklin's face on their front.
When asked who she thinks "is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel," Omar replied, "AIPAC!"
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is not a political action committee (PAC). It is prohibited by law from donating to candidate and neither rates nor endorses candidates for office.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Democratic House leadership condemned Omar for her "deeply offensive" remarks, and President Donald Trump called for her resignation. Omar remains a member of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, a position Pelosi could revoke.
On Monday morning, Omar offered a conditional apology for again using "anti-Semitic tropes." She immediately went on to invoke AIPAC by name and challenge its "problematic role" in politics.
Connolly concluded he stood by his colleague and needed no further apology. "I stand by what I said: she is young. She is new," he said.
Omar is 37 years old.
"She is now a member of Congress," Connolly continued. "She was a young citizen before that. That doesn't excuse those words, but it puts it in somewhat of a context," he said.
Connolly's comment is an apparent reference to an earlier anti-semitic furor over a 2012 comment. In a tweet before she came to Congress, Omar accused Israel of having "hypnotized" the world. She has since apologized, claiming ignorance of the comment's implications.
Omar wrote her anti-semitic tweets this week after coming to Congress. Despite apologizing and recognizing the anti-semitism reflected in her remarks, she is capitalizing on the story. An advertisement published on Facebook promises Omar "will not be silenced."
Harlow asked whether Connolly, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, supported Omar remaining on the committee.
"Well, she just got there," Connolly said. "She hasn't had much opportunity yet to learn the ropes."
Omar has been interested in American politics since she was fourteen years old, according to her website. She previously served in the Minnesota Legislature, including as Assistant Minority Leader. Presumably, anti-semitism was frowned upon in that position, too.
Connolly admitted that Omar's issue was less with her word choice and more with her world view.
"I think there is an opportunity for her to learn a lot and to start to maybe temper the views she came to Congress and this committee with," he said.
The Virginia congressman defended her staying on for now: "I don't know that this one outburst and that history you cite is enough to disqualify her from being on the Foreign Affairs Committee," he said.
Nevertheless, Connolly promised to work on her views. "It's certainly something to be watched and hopefully she can be mentored," he said.