MINNEAPOLIS – Fresh off of becoming the first Somali-American elected to Congress, Ilhan Omar said Wednesday that she’s still enjoying being known for her firsts.
In 2016 the one-time refugee became the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature in the U.S. when she won a seat in the Minnesota House from Minneapolis, which has a large Somali community. Her victory Tuesday in Minnesota’s 5th District also makes her one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, along with Democrat Rashida Tlaib, who won a Detroit-area seat.
“It’s wonderful. It is a great opportunity. But really I am not going from a first to another first,” Omar said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m going from the state House to the opportunity to serve in Congress, and serve the people in the Fifth, which is a great honor and a great opportunity. … It is something that is exciting to a few people, but, you know, often times it is important for us to own the moment, celebrate it, and then move on.”
Omar said she’s looking forward to going to Washington “to join a very diverse, bold progressive caucus” and work to expand funding for infrastructure projects, expanding the availability of health care and strengthening education.
And she said she plans “to hold this administration accountable and be a true check and balance.” While she said there will be opportunities for Democrats to find compromise with President Donald Trump on some issues, such as infrastructure, she added, “there is a real opportunity for us to make that sure that we have a Congress that does its job.”
While Nancy Pelosi is positioned to return to the speaker’s office after Democrats took back the House, Omar, like many Democratic candidates, has been publicly reticent about committing to support Pelosi. She said she admires Pelosi for her “wonderful work ethic” and looks forward to conversations within the Democratic caucus about electing a leader “that will help us implement the bold, progressive policies that we ran on. … I will see who that turns out to be.”
Omar will succeed Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, who was elected as Minnesota’s next attorney general on Tuesday. Like Ellison, she said, she will probably use a Quran for her ceremonial swearing in.