First US Muslim congresswomen take office

Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, took the oath of office on a copy of the Quran wearing a traditional Palestinian dress.
Sunday 06/01/2019
US House Representative member Rashida Tlaib (3rd R) participates in a ceremonial swearing-in with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (4th R) , January 4. (AFP)
Getting attention. US House Representative member Rashida Tlaib (3rd R) participates in a ceremonial swearing-in with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (4th R) , January 4. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - The US Congress welcomed its first two Muslim women members on January 4, although the day turned controversial when one of the women was captured on video vowing to help remove US President Donald Trump from office and referring to him with a vulgarity.

Rashida Tlaib, who was born in the United States to Palestinian parents, and Somali-born Ilhan Omar, who moved to the United States in 1995 as a refugee, are the first Muslim women to serve in the US House of Representatives in its 230-year history.

Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, took the oath of office on a copy of the Quran wearing a traditional Palestinian dress.

Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, wore a headscarf to the inauguration ceremony one day after Congress reversed a 181-year-old policy that supposedly banned elected officials from wearing headgear in the US Capitol.

The inauguration of Omar and Tlaib was hailed across the United States as an indication that Muslims are embraced in a country that has seen increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric since Trump took office two years ago and sought immediately to bar citizens of five Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia, from entering the United States.

“I thank my colleagues for welcoming me and I look forward to the day we lift the Muslim ban separating families all over the US from their loved ones,” Omar wrote on Twitter.

Omar, 37, moved to the United States as a teenager with her family after they fled Somalia and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp.

Tlaib, 42, posted a photograph on Twitter of her being inaugurated with the caption: “This really happened. I am US Congresswoman. Not bad for a girl from south-west Detroit who didn’t speak English, daughter of Palestinian immigrants.” Tlaib’s district in Detroit has a large Arab population.

The euphoria of the day soured at an inauguration party where Tlaib, during a rousing speech, said: “We’re going to impeach the [expletive]” in a reference to Trump. The remark was captured on a cell phone video and quickly went viral.

Trump said Tlaib’s remarks were “disgraceful” and “highly disrespectful to the United States of America.”

Many fellow Democrats winced at Tlaib’s comment, which they fear will feed a perception that they are more interested in ousting Trump than in running the country. The election last November put the Democratic Party in control of the House for the first time in eight years.

Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have urged party members to avoid appearing too antagonistic towards Trump, a Republican whom many Democrats greatly dislike. Pelosi shrugged off Tlaib’s remark, saying: “I’m not in the censorship business. I don’t like that language. I wouldn’t use that language but I wouldn’t establish language standards for my colleagues.”

Republicans pounced on Tlaib’s comment as an indication that Democrats are interested only in trying to oust Trump. “How do you work with anybody if this is what they really have planned?” asked Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader.

Tlaib was defiant, writing on Twitter: “I will always speak truth to power.” She found support on Twitter where #ImpeachTheMF was a trending item January 4.

Because of their backgrounds, Omar and Tlaib could receive an unusual amount of attention and scrutiny for new members of the House.

Along with other progressives in Congress, Tlaib and Omar seem to crave media attention to challenge the Washington status quo but the House of Representatives is tightly controlled by party leaders who determine what issues are debated and voted on, leaving junior members with little influence.

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