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Seth Meyers and Meghan McCain Clash in Ilhan Omar Debate

Newsweek logo Newsweek 5/8/2019 David Brennan

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Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, struggled through an awkward interview with NBC host Seth Meyers on Tuesday, with much of the conversation focused on McCain’s past comments about Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

McCain drew criticism after appearing on the This Week program with George Stephanopoulos just one day after the April 27 Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting in San Diego. She brought up Omar’s criticism of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. when discussing the synagogue attack.

"When we’re having conversations about anti-Semitism, we should be looking at the most extreme on both sides," McCain said on This Week. "I would bring up Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and some of her comments that got so much attention, and in my opinion Nancy Pelosi wasn't harsh enough on her for trafficking in anti-Semitic language, talking about ‘All about the Benjamins’ and how Jewish people had ‘hypnotized’ the world.”

On Tuesday, Meyers put it to McCain that linking criticism of the pro-Israel lobby in America to anti-Semitic violence was irresponsible, Mediaite reported. “I do think it’s fairly dangerous, and you brought it up after Congresswoman Omar had also had some death threats against her,” he said.

Republicans and some Democrats were quick to denounce Omar’s comments, which prompted a resolution in the House condemning anti-Semitism and other offensive speech. But some top Democrats—including 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren—rallied around the Minnesota representative, warning that criticism of the state of Israel must not be conflated with anti-Semitism.

Meyers continued, “She’s obviously now stated she needs to be more careful with her language. Don’t you think people who talk about her need to be a little bit more thoughtful as well? Or do you stand by those comments of tying her rhetoric to the synagogue shooting?”

McCain responded, “I don’t think I tied her to it in particular,” though she explicitly mentioned Omar in her comments. “I think that I’m calling out what I see as anti-Semitic language.”

But Meyers pointed out that McCain criticized Omar only after the Democrat had apologized. “I do want to establish the timeline,” he explained.

McCain struggled to give a coherent reply, telling Meyers, “I think the Democrats are hedging on this, and I think it’s very dangerous, and I think Chuck Schumer and I are in alignment about Israel’s stance in geopolitical politics. I think it’s of the utmost importance—and I think she is bringing her party to the extreme…to the extremism on this.

“I stand by every single thing I’ve said, and if that makes me unpopular in this room or in front of you, so be it."

McCain then moved the conversation on to comments made by Omar about 9/11. The congresswoman once again faced right-wing outrage and death threats after a video emerged of her speaking at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in March.

The video—which was shared by President Donald Trump—was edited to portray Omar as being dismissive of the attacks, saying CAIR was founded after 9/11 “because they recognized that some people did something.” The video then showed images of the burning World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“Were you bothered by her language about 9/11?” McCain asked Meyers, to which the host suggested her comments were taken out of context and made sense within the full speech. McCain added, “Would you give President Trump the same leverage if he had said the same thing?”

Referring to the lies the president has told about the attacks, Meyers suggested Trump “is certainly in no position to criticize her language on 9/11 based on the things that he’s said about 9/11, right?”

Moving the conversation back to the issue of anti-Semitism in the U.S., Meyers charged McCain with equating Jews with the state of Israel. “Is there a way for people to talk about differences in Israeli policy without getting framed as anti-Semitic language?” he asked.

McCain went back to Omar’s controversial tweets, noting “you can’t talk about Jews ‘hypnotizing’ the world, talking about ‘all about the Benjamins.’” This was a misrepresentation of the tweets, which referred to the state of Israel and its supporters in the U.S. rather than Jews explicitly, The Daily Beast noted.

After Meyers suggested it was unfair to keep bringing up tweets for which Omar has already apologized, Mcain fired back, “Are you her publicist?”

Meyers said he was not, but rather was “someone who cares about the fact that there’s someone out there who is in a minority, who has had death threats against her, and I think that we should all use the same language. You’re asking her to be careful about her language and I’d ask everyone to be careful about theirs.”

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