- Democratic U.S. congresswoman from Florida
- Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Believes that illegal immigrants should be offered a path-to-citizenship
- Rejects the term “illegal alien” as offensive
- Views America as a nation aash in racism
- Says: “The real enemy is the Tea Party”
- Opposes Voter ID laws
Frederica Wilson was born on November 5, 1942 in Miami, Florida. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Fisk University in 1963, and a master’s degree in that same field from the University of Miami in 1972. Over the course of her professional life, Wilson worked variously as a teacher and assistant educational coordinator at Head Start Miami, an administrator at Skyway Elementary School in Miami Gardens, and executive director of the Office of Alternative Education & Dropout Prevention at Miami-Dade County Schools. She was also a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board from 1992-98.
Wilson launched her political career in 1998, when she began a four-year stint in the Florida State House of Representatives. She then served in the Florida State Senate from 2003-11. And since 2011 she has held a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Florida’s 17th Congressional District from 2011-13, and the 24th Congressional District thereafter. She is a Democratic member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Describing herself as a “voice for the voiceless,” Wilson believes that: women should be entitled to unrestricted abortion rights, including the provision of government subsidies for those who cannot afford the procedure; illegal immigrants should be offered a path-to-citizenship; any restrictions on immigration are essentially racist efforts to prevent Hispanics and other nonwhites from entering the country; the expansion of the U.S. military would be a misguided use of resources that ought to be spent instead on social-welfare programs; affirmative action in employment and academia is a necessary means of compensating nonwhites for historical injustices that they and their ancestors suffered; school vouchers are unjustified because they siphon vital resources away from public education; the availability of firearms should be restricted by any means necessary; and high earners should pay dramatically higher income-tax rates than lower- and middle-class people.
In August 2011, Wilson attributed high black unemployment rates, in part, to societal “racism”_—_as well as to corporations “shipping jobs overseas,” and to the fact that many African Americans have “no access to technology.”
At a Miami town hall meeting that same month, Wilson made plain her contempt for conservatives. “Let us all remember who the real enemy is. The real enemy is the Tea Party. The Tea Party holds the Congress hostage. They have one goal in mind, and that’s to make President Obama a one-term president.”
In the aftermath of the highly publicized February 2012 incident where a “white Hispanic” named George Zimmerman shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin, Wilson said, contrary to all evidence of what had happened, that “Trayvon was hunted down like a rabid dog. He was shot in the street. He was racially profiled.” At a Congressional forum in March of that year, Wilson proclaimed that Zimmerman should be arrested “immediately for his own safety.” Attorney and best-selling author Ben Shapiro noted at the time: “There are no legal grounds upon which somebody can be imprisoned for his or her own safety, unless they are actually a threat to harm themselves, which is not the case here. In fact, the Constitution expressly forbids such measures under the Fourth Amendment … The only excuses for a criminal arrest in America are probable cause or an arrest warrant based upon probable cause. Arresting citizens ‘for their own safety’ smacks of tyranny.”
When Zimmerman was eventually acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a July 2013 trial, Wilson lamented that “until we pass meaningful laws against profiling,” “little black boys and big boys, and black grown men, will continue to be singled out and arrested for driving while black, shopping while black, walking while black, eating while black, and just being plain ol’ black!”
In July 2013, when some Republicans were proposing a budget cut of 0.5% in the fraud-infested Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Wilson exhorted her fellow legislators to reject such a measure. Depicting SNAP as “a mainstay in the lives of so many Americans who are just trying to get by,” she said that any cuts to the program would be “wrong,” “punitive,” and “cruel.”
In January 2015, Wilson objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3rd about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his “profound disagreement” with the deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. When asked if black politicians saw Netanyahu’s speech as an insult to Obama, she replied: “I think they kind of think it is.”
By Wilson’s reckoning, Voter ID laws are designed not to safeguard the integrity of political elections, but rather to “disenfranchise … minority voters.” “All of a sudden after the 2008 election, these [voter ID laws] miraculously appear,” she said in early 2012. “Why? Because we have a black president in the White House and it is to stop all of the people of color from … coming out to vote.”
Similarly outspoken on the matter of immigration reform, Wilson lauds the “hardworking immigrants” who “arrived here both with and without documentation” to “enric[h] our society and [make] tremendous contributions to our economy.” Asserting that America has a moral obligation to create a path-to-citizenship that will allow illegals to come “out of the shadows,” she laments that the existing, “broken” immigration system has: (a) prevented “millions of people … from reuniting with their family members or contributing to our economy,” and (b) “deprived” them of “the basic legal rights that our Constitution enshrines.” Wilson supported President Obama’s executive actions to prevent deportations—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)—as examples of “true leadership” on the issue. “There is no such thing as an illegal person,” says Wilson. “Every person on our shores deserves the same rights and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.”
Rejecting the term “illegal alien” as offensive, Wilson in 2007 introduced a bill in the Florida State Senate stipulating that “a state agency or official may not use the term ‘illegal alien’ in an official document of the state.” “To me an alien is somebody who is from another planet,” she said. “There are so many other synonyms that would be more dignified for human beings.” “All of us are immigrants except the American Indian,” Wilson added. “Now how would we like it if they called us aliens? The only people who should not be called that [immigrants] should be American Indians.”
Controversy Over President Trump’s Phone Call to a Grieving Gold Star Widow
In mid-October 2017, Wilson sparked a large controversy when she injected herself into a story that involved four American soldiers who had been shot and killed by Islamic militants in Niger on October 4. (For details about the soldiers’ mission and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, see Note #1, below.)1
On October 16, 2017, President Donald Trump called the families of each of the four dead soldiers to express his condolences. One of the people whom he called was Myeshia Johnson, the widow of 25-year-old Sgt. La David T. Johnson. In an interview the following day, Rep. Wilson told the press that she herself had been with Mrs. Johnson, who lived in Rep. Wilson’s 24th Congressional District, at the time of Trump’s call, and that she had listened in on the conversation. According to Wilson, Trump had callously told the grieving widow that her deceased husband “knew what he was signing up for” when he enlisted in the Army. Trump “should not have said that,” Wilson explained, because it was “so insensitive.” In a similar spirit, a female companion who was alongside Wilson during the interview opined that Trump should instead have offered the widow some “words of encouragement” and “words of what his sacrifice meant to this country.” When a reporter asked Wilson whether “the conversation included any of that,” the congresswoman replied: “I didn’t hear any of that. That is what stood out in my mind. Now, I didn’t hear the entire conversation…. But that stood out in everyone’s heart in the car. You don’t say that…. That is an insult to the entire Miami Gardens community, to our entire District 24, to Miami-Dade County, and to this nation.”
Trump denied Wilson’s claims. Wilson, in turn, called Trump a “jerk” and a “liar,” and said that she wanted Congress to investigate the four American deaths in Niger, characterizing the incident as “Mr. Trump’s Benghazi.”2 “The circumstances are similar [to Benghazi],” Wilson claimed, noting that the four soldiers in Niger “didn’t have appropriate weapons where they were”; that “they were told by intelligence there was no threat”; that “they had trucks that were not armored trucks”; that “they were particularly not protected”; and that, “just like in Benghazi, they were given the impression that everything was fine.”
In reaction to Wilson’s remarks, journalist Daniel Greenfield wrote: “Wilson is predictably wrong and ignorant about everything. The Niger deployment of special forces dates back to Obama. The preference for missions of this type where American forces were helping train the locals was very much a key part of Obama era counterterrorism. And they do carry risk when the men come under fire. If Wilson doesn’t like it, she had plenty of opportunities to speak up under Obama…. Wilson doesn’t seem to know what happened in Benghazi. The attack there was extraordinary because it was an American mission rather than soldiers in the field. And there had been numerous threats but no real security. That’s fundamentally different than soldiers deployed in an area that has terrorist issues being killed in an ambush.”
On October 19, 2017, White House chief of staff John Kelly — a retired U.S. Marine Corps General and a Gold Star father — addressed the press in the White House briefing room, where he defended Trump and excoriated Wilson. Kelly stated that he was “stunned” and “brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing … listen[ing] in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, [trying] in his way … to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, [that] he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted … [and that] he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me…. I thought at least that was sacred….” At one point in his remarks, Kelly also said that Wilson was part of “the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise.” For a more comprehensive look at Kelly’s remarks, see Note #3, below.3
After hearing about General Kelly’s remarks, Rep. Wilson laughed and told reporters: “You mean to tell me that I’ve become so important … that the White House is following me and my words? This is amazing. That’s amazing. That is absolutely phenomenal. I’ll have to tell my kids that I’m a rock star now.” With regard specifically to General Kelly’s use of the term “empty barrel,” Wilson said: “I think that’s a racist term too. I’m thinking about that when — we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don’t like to be dragged into something like that….” Wilson subsequently accused General Kelly of “character assassination,” characterized him as a “puppet of the president,” and demanded an apology. Next, Wilson claimed that the Trump White House “is full of white supremacists.”
Voting Record & Additional Information
For an overview of Wilson’s voting record on a range of issues during her years in Congress, click here.
For additional information on Wilson, click here.
“U.S. troops arrived in 2013 to help the French military, which was running an operation against al-Qaeda in Mali. Then-President Barack Obama sent 150 service members to Niger’s capital, Niamey, to set up a surveillance drone operation over Mali. Today, there are about 800 soldiers assisting in the fight against al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram, the Nigerian extremist militant group.…
It’s unclear, but we know that a group of eight to twelve U.S. soldiers was accompanying 30 to 40 Nigerien troops on some kind of mission near Tongo Tongo…. The group met with leaders and collected supplies. As they were heading home, they were ambushed by about 50 militants. There was a firefight. Witnesses said the assailants blew up their vehicles. The soldiers ran for cover and began returning fire…. But by the end of the fight, four Americans were dead.”
2 This was a reference to the Islamic terrorist attacks that had killed four Americans at a poorly secured U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 – a tragedy that subsequently became controversial when the Obama administration repeatedly lied about the nature of the attacks.
3 Below is a partial transcript of General Kelly’s remarks to the press regarding President Trump’s phone call to Mrs. Johnson and the controversy surrounding it:
Most Americans don’t know what happens when we lose one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, our Coast Guardsmen in combat. So let me tell you what happens:
Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts them on a helicopter as a routine, and sends them home. Their first stop along the way is when they’re packed in ice, typically at the airhead. And then they’re flown to, usually, Europe where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover Air Force Base, where Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with a casualty officer escort that takes them home.
A very, very good movie to watch, if you haven’t ever seen it, is “Taking Chance,” where this is done in a movie — HBO setting. Chance Phelps was killed under my command right next to me, and it’s worth seeing that if you’ve never seen it.
So that’s the process. While that’s happening, a casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door; typically a mom and dad will answer, a wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places; if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until — well, for a long, long time, even after the internment. So that’s what happens.
Who are these young men and women? They are the best 1 percent this country produces. Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best this country produces, and they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required. But that’s all right.
Who writes letters to the families? Typically, the company commander — in my case, as a Marine — the company commander, battalion commander, regimental commander, division commander, Secretary of Defense, typically the service chief, commandant of the Marine Corps, and the President typically writes a letter. Typically, the only phone calls a family receives are the most important phone calls they could imagine, and that is from their buddies. In my case, hours after my son was killed, his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was. Those are the only phone calls that really mattered.
And yeah, the letters count, to a degree, but there’s not much that really can take the edge off what a family member is going through. So some Presidents have elected to call. All Presidents, I believe, have elected to send letters. If you elect to call a family like this, it is about the most difficult thing you could imagine. There’s no perfect way to make that phone call.
When I took this job and talked to President Trump about how to do it, my first recommendation was he not do it because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to. It’s nice to do, in my opinion, in any event.
He asked me about previous Presidents, and I said, I can tell you that President Obama, who was my Commander-in-Chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family. That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say, I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing. I don’t believe President Bush called in all cases. I don’t believe any President, particularly when the casualty rates are very, very high — that Presidents call. But I believe they all write.
So when I gave that explanation to our President three days ago, he elected to make phone calls in the cases of four young men who we lost in Niger at the earlier part of this month. But then he said, how do you make these calls? If you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn the uniform, if you’ve never been in combat, you can’t even imagine how to make that call. I think he very bravely does make those calls.
The call in question that he made yesterday — or day before yesterday now — were to four family members, the four fallen. And remember, there’s a next-of-kin designated by the individual. If he’s married, that’s typically the spouse. If he’s not married, that’s typically the parents unless the parents are divorced, and then he selects one of them. If he didn’t get along with his parents, he’ll select a sibling. But the point is, the phone call is made to the next-of-kin only if the next-of-kin agrees to take the phone call. Sometimes they don’t.
So a pre-call is made: The President of the United States or the commandant of the Marine Corps, or someone would like to call, will you accept the call? And typically, they all accept the call.
So he called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could. And he said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.
Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.
That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There’s no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken.
That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.
Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.
And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying, and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this Earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery. I went over there for an hour-and-a-half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed….
So I still hope, as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, that let’s not let this maybe last thing that’s held sacred in our society — a young man, young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country — let’s try to somehow keep that sacred. But it eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.