Ilhan Omar: McCarthy a ‘coward’ for not condemning Islamophobic comments

Congresswoman also says she is ‘confident’ Nancy Pelosi will take ‘decisive action’ against Lauren Boebert, a pro-Trump rightwinger

Kevin McCarthy is a “liar and a coward”, Ilhan Omar said on Sunday, regarding the House Republican leader’s refusal to condemn Lauren Boebert, the Colorado Republican who has made bigoted and Islamophobic comments about her Democratic counterpart from Minnesota.

Related: Ilhan Omar airs death threat and presses Republicans on ‘anti-Muslim hatred’

Omar also said she was “very confident” that the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, “will take decisive action” against Boebert in the week to come, perhaps by removing committee assignments or seeking formal censure.

Omar came to the US from Somalia, and in 2018 was one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Boebert, a pro-Trump rightwinger, was also elected that year.

In comments over Thanksgiving which echoed previous attacks, Boebert called Omar a member of a supposed “Jihad Squad” and joked about fearing Omar might have a bomb when they shared an elevator in the US Capitol.

Omar condemned the remarks. Boebert apologised but a phone call ended in acrimony.

Some Republicans have condemned Boebert – but not McCarthy, a minority leader widely seen to be in thrall to pro-Trump extremists as he seeks votes to make him speaker in 2023, when Republicans are expected to take back the House.

On Friday, McCarthy told reporters Boebert “apologised publicly. She apologised personally … denied the ability to meet personally, she picked up the phone and she called Congresswoman Omar, she says, ‘I want to personally apologise to you.’ And that’s what she did.”

Omar told CNN’s State of the Union: “He is a liar and a coward. He doesn’t have the ability to condemn the kind of bigoted Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric that are being trafficked by a member of his party.

“This is who they are. And we have to be able to stand up to them. And we have to push them to reckon with the fact that their party right now is normalising anti-Muslim bigotry.”

Attacks on Republicans who have spoken up against Boebert, Omar said, showed “their conference condones [her remarks] and that’s why it’s dangerous.

“… The most dangerous thing that she has recently said is that we have a problem in Congress because there’s a terrorist. And I think once you sort of invoke that kind of language, you put not just my life but the lives of my colleagues as well in danger because we don’t know who’s out there.”

This week, Omar released a recording of a threatening message. She told CNN: “The people who are leaving these voicemails that are saying, ‘We are taking up arms, coming to the Capitol to protect our country from a terrorist’ are not, you know, people that we should dismiss. They’re not joking.

“And I think it’s important for us to say this kind of language, this kind of hate, cannot be condoned by the House of Representatives, and we should punish and sanction Boebert by stripping her of her committees, by rebuking her language, by doing everything we can to send a clear and decisive message to the American public, that if the Republicans are not going to be adults and condemn this then we are going to do that.”

Asked if she thought Pelosi would act against Boebert, Omar said: “I’ve had a conversation with the Speaker and I’m very confident that she will take decisive action next week.

“When I first got to Congress, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be allowed to be sworn in because there was a ban on the hijab. She promised me that she would take care of it. She fulfilled that promise. She has made another promise to me, that she will take care of this, and I believe her.”