Representative Ilhan Omar has suggested Barack Obama is a “pretty face” who “got away with murder”.
The Minnesota Democrat implied the former president’s “hope and change” message was an illusion – saying his immigration policies involved detaining children at the southern border and pointing to his repeated use of lethal drone strikes overseas.
“We can’t be only upset with Trump. … His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was,” Ms Omar told Politico.
“And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognise the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”
She criticised Mr Obama for the “caging of kids” and “droning of countries around the world.”
The article characterised her description of the former Democrat president’s policies as operating within the same “fundamentally broken framework” as Mr Trump. But Ms Omar did not refer to Mr Obama by name in that part of the published piece.
Ms Omar has now insisted her comments were “distorted” and that she is definitely a “fan” of the former Democratic leader in a tweet posted on Friday which appears to have now been deleted.
“Exhibit A of how reporters distort words,” she tweeted. “I’m an Obama fan! I was saying how Trump is different from Obama, and why we should focus on policy not politics. This is why I always tape my interviews.“
She also tweeted an audio file that included fuller comments on the Obama policy issues that she referenced – including her differentiating between the ways in which Mr Obama and Mr Trump instigated those policies.
“For many of us, we think of ourselves as Democrats, but many of the ways that our Democratic leaders have conducted themselves within the system is not one that we’re all proud of,” she said in the clip.
“I will talk about the family separation or caging of kids and people will point out that this was Trump, I mean, this was Obama.
“And I will say something about the droning of countries around the world and people will say, that was Obama. And all of that is very true. What is happening now is very different – it’s happening with secrecy, it’s happening with the feel good, polished way of talking about it.”
Ms Omar, who is the first Somali-American to be elected to legislative office in the US, has been plagued by controversy over statements she made regarding Israel and pro-Israel groups that some perceived to be antisemitic.
A House resolution in response to her remarks divided the Democratic caucus, with some members striving to call her out by name while others successfully pushed for language denouncing a wide range of discrimination.
The resolution, which was passed on Thursday, did not name Ms Omar. It made several mentions of antisemitism, but also hit out at other manifestations of hate such as Islamophobia.
Prominent progressives including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have come to Ms Omar’s defence in the wake of the controversy.
Mr Sanders, who is Jewish, said that he believes the attacks on Ms Omar are aimed at silencing discussion of American foreign policy with regards to Israel.
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate,” Mr Sanders, who is top Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement. “That’s wrong.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez claimed the attacks on Ms Omar illustrated the hypocrisy in Congress surrounding questions of racism or antisemitism.
“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled ‘Go back to Puerto Rico!’ on the floor),” Ms Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
She continued: “It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid.
“But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’”