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The Squad’s controversies have brought a backlash that could prove fatal

Several members of the progressive ‘Squad’ in the US House of Representatives are facing controversy and ire from House Republicans this week. Katie Hawkinson and Eric Garcia report from Capitol Hill

Friday 02 February 2024 15:45 GMT
Ilhan Omar has faced calls for an ethics investigation
Ilhan Omar has faced calls for an ethics investigation (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Members of the Squad – the coterie of progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives – are now facing some of the biggest existential threats on numerous fronts.

The group — which initially consisted of Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — became prominent during Donald Trump’s presidency. It later added members such as Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York and Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri in 2020 and Greg Casar of Texas and Summer Lee of Pennsylvania in 2022.

During Joe Biden’s time in the White House, the Squad has sought to put pressure on the decidedly more moderate president to move him leftward.

But an investigation from the Justice Department, a reportedly mischaracterised speech and criticism for previous statements have led to several members of the group facing criticism and primary challenges.

Fellow Democrats are responding in a mixed way.

Representative Delia Ramirez, a Democrat from Illinois and a progressive ally of the Squad, told The Independent that legislators must address what she says is the systematic targeting of women of colour.

“I am concerned about even sometimes we’re targeting people, and particularly women of colour for representing their districts and I’m concerned about the money in politics,” Ms Ramirez said. “We have to address it.”

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries seems unfazed on the issues as the progressive coalition in the House navigates rough waters.

Leader Jeffries had little to tell The Independent about the controversies both Congressman Bowman and Congresswoman Omar are facing (EPA)

Bowman and Bush face controversy

Mr Bowman last made headlines when, in a party-line vote, the House voted to censure him for pulling a Capitol fire alarm when there was not an emergency.

CCTV shows Jamaal Bowman pulling fire alarm in Capitol

Now, he is again under fire after a report fromThe Daily Beast revealed the New York Democrat spread conspiracy theories about the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on his personal blog back in 2011.

Mr Bowman told The Daily Beast that he regrets the posts promoting 9/11 “truther” theories.

“Well over a decade ago, as I was debating diving into a doctoral degree, I explored a wide range of books, films, and articles across a wide swath of the political spectrum and processed my thoughts in a personal blog that few people ever read,” Mr Bowman told the outlet.

Mr Bowman is currently facing a Democratic primary challenge against George Latimer, who has already raised $1.4m for his campaign, per FEC filings.

Mr Jeffries has previously endorsed Mr Bowman and expressed his support for other incumbent progressives.

But when asked by The Independent about his reaction to Mr Bowman’s posts, the House minority leader didn’t defend him. Instead, Mr Jeffries said he had “not yet” endorsed a candidate in Mr Bowman’s district.

However, in December, Mr Jeffries’ leadership PAC, Jobs Education and Families First, donated $5,000 to Mr Bowman’s campaign, per FEC filings.

Meanwhile, Ms Bush is being investigated by three different bodies — the Department of Justice, the House Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission — for allegedly using campaign funds to hire her husband for private security.

“In recent months, right-wing organizations have lodged baseless complaints against me, peddling notions that I have misused campaigns funds to pay for personal security services. That is simply not true,” Ms Bush said in a statement previously reported by The Independent.

“I have complied with all applicable laws and House rules – and will continue to prioritize the rules that govern us as federal elected officials.”

Representative Troy Nehls, a Republican from Texas, called Ms Bush’s husband a “thug”.

Cori Bush and several other Democrats criticised Troy Nehls’ comments (Getty Images)

“The idea to pay her thug money to try to help protect her this and that, for what?” Mr Nehls said. “Maybe if she wouldn’t be so loud all the time, maybe she wouldn’t be getting threats.”

Ms Bush responded on X: “@RepTroyNehls just called my husband, a Black man and army veteran, a thug. And I’m the loud Black woman who needs to be silent in order to be safe from violence, or else?”

Ms Omar also immediately called Mr Nehls out on X: “The loud black woman trope is racist and tired.”

Mr Jeffries also condemned his comments during a press conference Thursday.

Hakeem Jeffries condemns Troy Nehls’ comments about Cori Bush’s husband

“He should apologize, it’s disgraceful,” Mr Jeffries said. “And as far as I know, the person that he called a thug actually served in the United States military, putting his life on the line as so many of our servicewomen and men do.”

The Independent has reached out to Ms Bush’s office for comment.

Omar faces Republican ire over ‘mischaracterised’ speech

Meanwhile, Ms Omar, a progressive Democrat from Minnesota, gave a speech last week at an event celebrating recent elections in Somalia. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and several fellow Republicans criticised her speech, with Mr Emmer calling for an ethics investigation on X.

Mr Emmer and fellow Republicans circulated a translated version of the speech, with the Majority Whip calling her words “anti-American”.

However, a reporter with Minnesota outlet Star Tribune who speaks Somali translated the speech and compared it to a transcript that Ms Omar’s office directed them to. The Star Tribune subsequently reported that Republican opponents had circulated a translation that may have mischaracterised her actual comments.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Independent has contacted Mr Emmer’s office for comment.

Meanwhile, on Thursday morning, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene called for a censure vote against Ms Omar. The Georgia Republican called the censure legislation to the floor as a privileged resolution, which will essentially force the House to vote on it within two legislative days, meaning it will go to the floor early next week.

When The Independent asked Ms Omar if she was worried about Mr Emmer’s call for an ethics investigation, she minced no words.

“Absolutely not,” she said. Meanwhile, Mr Jeffries — leader of the House Democrats — told The Independent he was “unaware” of Mr Emmer’s call for an investigation into Ms Omar.

In response to Ms Greene’s call for censure, Ms Omar told The Independent she does not care “what that insane woman does.”

Though these unresolved challenges continue to play out, all hope is not lost for the Squad.

Mr Jeffries announced his support for Ms Lee of Pennsylvania,The Intercept reported. The progressive Democrat has faced criticism in the past for her statements about Israel and has two primary challengers.

Similarly, Ms Ocasio-Cortez serves as the number-two Democrat on the House Oversight Committee as Republicans begin their impeachment inquiry into Mr Biden.

This article was amended on 7 February 2024. It previously inaccurately referred to George Latimer as a Republican, but he is a Democrat.

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