Transcript: Representative Ilhan Omar on "Face the Nation," September 15, 2019

Omar says Supreme Court asylum decision is "legally and morally wrong"

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota that aired Sunday, September 15, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, it's good to have you here. 

REPRESENTATIVE ILHAN OMAR: Thank you so much for having me, MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard what Chairman Schiff said. We know more than half of the Democratic caucus supports impeachment, now. You're among them. Do you think Speaker Pelosi is being too hesitant?

REP. OMAR: Well what I've always said was that it wasn't if we were going to impeach, it's when we were going to impeach, and I think it is okay for some people to have hesitations, for other people to catch up to where some of us have been for a really long time. And I think with Chairman Nadler, he understands that, you know, we have a constitutional duty and we must exercise that constitutional duty.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think, though, because of the sheer numbers, now- I think there are one hundred and thirty six Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry at least- are we at a tipping point where those decisions need to be made?

REP. OMAR: Yes, and the decisions are being made. This is why they took the vote to begin the investigation and I really feel confident that they are in the process of getting everybody else who is still lagging to come along.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now, we said in the introduction you're controversial. The Republican National Committee has released a video of you and it- I want to read you just some of it. You're comparing migrant shelters to dungeons used about 400 years ago in Ghana that you recently visited. And you toured those caves in Ghana recently. It's getting a lot of attention. Did you mean, when you were talking there, to compare U.S. border agents to slave traders?

REP. OMAR: So, I'm only controversial because people seem to want to- controversy. What I talked about at our panel that was the plight of black immigrants was about the experience I was having as I went through the dungeons. There were stories that were being told, and I talked about how at that moment I had an image of what's happening in Libya as- as people as- are being sold. We've- we've all seen that video, that auction of somebody being sold for 400 dollars. And then I talked about the separation stories that he told about how families were being torn apart, how children were being separated from their parents, how husband and wife would be forcibly separated. And I said that kind of reminded me of what was happening at our border here. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you didn't mean it as an attack on U.S. border agents?

REP. OMAR: Absolutely not. I think this is- this is always the point, right? There is always a- an implied intent to every conversation I have and if you listen to the video, one comparison of what the dungeons looked like and people being sold was to what's happening in North Africa and the other one was a family separations. And of course we obviously have a- a crisis here with our family separation policies.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You feel very passionately about immigration. You came to this country as a refugee.

REP. OMAR: I did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Trump administration had a victory in the courts this week because, at least temporarily, they're upholding the ability of the administration to put into place new restrictions on the ability to claim asylum here.

REP. OMAR: I- I believe that decision is morally and legally wrong. Seeking asylum is a legal right that people have and we know that the Supreme Court has been wrong before. They've been wrong in the equal but separation doctrine decision, they've been wrong in the Dred Scott decision, and so what we now have an opportunity to do as legislators is make sure that we are creating immigration policy that is humane and just.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well the Trump administration say they have to go and implement these regulations, that their hands are being tied because Congress just isn't doing its job. 

REP. OMAR: Alright. We certainly in the House have been doing our job since the first day we got there. And--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So do asylum rights, as you argue, need to be more specifically laid out? Are you working on something like that?

REP. OMAR: Yeah, we are trying to make sure that we fix our broken immigration system. I mean, people have to understand that the immigration crisis that we have is one that we could avoid. And many of the policies that we've been advocating for, many that are currently sitting at the doorsteps of Mitch McConnell, will create a positive impact on how our immigration system is carried out. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was the anniversary this week, the 18th, of the 9/11 attacks on our country. And at a Ground Zero- well- remembrance ceremony- I'll call it- the son of one of the victims stood up and specifically called out language you had used in the past that he characterized as not respectful when referring to the three thousand people who were killed by Al-Qaeda. You said, "some people did something," and he put it right there on his t-shirt. Do- do you understand why people found that offensive?

REP. OMAR: I mean so, 9/11 was an attack on all Americans. It was an attack on all of us. And I certainly could not understand the weight of the pain that the victims of the- the families of 9/11 must feel. But I think it is really important for us to make sure that we are not forgetting, right, the aftermath of what happened after 9/11. Many Americans found themselves now having their civil rights stripped from them. And so what I was speaking to was the fact that as a Muslim, not only was I suffering as an American who was attacked on that day, but the next day I woke up as my fellow Americans were now treating me a suspect.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you- do you feel like it's been tough for you, here in Washington, to change your rhetoric, to- to be less of an activist and try to be a legislator? That- that sometimes the language you use has gotten in your own way?

REP. OMAR: I certainly don't think that. You know, when we were celebrating few nights ago, I talked about how some people would say, "Ilhan, you should speak a certain way. Ilhan, you should do something a certain way," and I think that's contradictory, really, to the purpose of- of my existence in this space. I believe that my constituents sent me to make sure that I was bringing in a conversation that others weren't having, that I was speaking for people who felt voiceless for a long time. And I think it's really important for us to recognize that it's a new Congress. It's a diverse Congress and we're not only diverse in our race or ethnicity or religion, but we are also diverse in our perspective, in our pain and our struggles, and in the hopes and dreams that we have, and the kind of America that we want to shape for all of us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were specifically banned by the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu from visiting that country. He faces a very tough election in the next few days. If he doesn't win, are you going to try to go back and do you stand by your call for a boycott of Israel?

REP. OMAR: I certainly hope that the people of Israel make a different decision. And my hope is that they recognize that his existence, his policies, his rhetoric really is contradictory to the peace that we are all hoping that that region receives and receives soon. Just right now if you look at the annexation that's taking place, for many of us in Congress there has been long standing support for its two state solution and this annexation now is going to make sure that that peace process does not happen. And we will not get to a two state solution. I think what is really important is for people to understand that you have to give people the opportunity to seek the kind of justice they want in a peaceful way. And I think the opportunity to boycott divest sanction is the kind of pressure that leads to that peaceful process. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, thank you for coming here to FACE THE NATION. 

REP. OMAR: Thank you so much for having me.