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To Swear In, Ilhan Omar Lands in Airport Where She First Arrived as a Refugee

Incoming Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar flew into the DC airport on her way to take her oath of office first Somali-American refugee elected to Congress.

by Marie Solis
Jan 3 2019, 4:57pm

The first time incoming Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar flew into Virginia's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport 23 years ago, she was a refugee. When she landed there on Wednesday evening, she was on her way to getting sworn in as the first Somali-American and one of the first-ever Muslim women elected to Congress, along with Michigan Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib.

Omar tweeted out a photo of herself in the airport alongside her father, who'd also accompanied her on that initial journey to the United States.

When she takes office, Omar will also become the first person to wear a headscarf on the House floor. During her orientation and transition period, Omar worked alongside incoming House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern to amend a 181-year-old rule that would have forbidden her from doing so.

"There are those kinds of policies that oftentimes get created because people who have blindspots are in positions of influence and positions of power,” Omar told the New York Post in December. “I think it will be really exciting to see the stuff that we notice within the rules that don’t work for a modern-day America."

Omar has come up against a substantial amount of Islamophobic sentiment on the way to achieving her many firsts. On a visit to DC in 2016, just after becoming Minnesota's first Somali-American state legislator, she got in a cab with a driver whom she said had called her "ISIS" and threatened to remove her headscarf.

During her 2018 bid for Congress, she became a target of far-right activist Laura Loomer, who bombarded her and Tlaib with questions about their personal histories at a campaign event last year, fueling unfounded allegations that Omar married her brother to secure her legal status in the US.

"Rashida, are you willing to admit as a congresswoman that Hamas is a terrorist organization?" Loomer asked in a "heavily edited" video reported on by Newsweek. "What about your Jewish constituents? Why is she so hateful against Israel? Ilhan, why did you marry your brother?"

And in December, a conservative commentator went on an anti-Muslim rant about how, with Omar and Tlaib, the floor of Congress would begin to look like "an Islamic Republic."

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Omar hasn't let the vitriol get to her, telling conservatives who malign her faith that it's too bad: She's here to stay. "Well sir, the floor of Congress is going to look like America..." she wrote on Twitter at the time. "And you’re gonna have to just deal."

On Thursday afternoon, Omar will officially be sworn into the 116th Congress, which will be the most diverse in history. Later on Wednesday, Omar posted a photo of her posing alongside incoming New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to ever go to Congress, incoming Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, the first Black woman to represent her state in the Capitol, incoming congresswomen Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, who will both be the first Native American women to serve in Congress, and Veronica Escobar, who, along with fellow Representative-elect Sylvia Garcia, will become the first Latinas to represent Texas in the House.

"They ain't ready," Omar wrote.