Frequently lumped together in discussion of a so-called progressive “squad,” four Congresswoman, each elected to the House for the first time in 2018, are diligently moving the politics of the Democratic Party to the left. Though neither of these four is running for President, they are in conjunction influencing the candidates for that post, and drawing the fire of irate tweets from the incumbent.
The four squad members are: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Ayanna Pressley (MA), Rashida Tlaib (MI).
A conservative commentator on Fox News has called them “the four horsewomen of the apocalypse.”
Yet key policy issues may test their cohesion as a group. One such issue: whether Americans who support a Palestinian State ought to advance that cause by boycotting Israeli-made products, working to exclude Israel’s performers and academics from international events in their fields, and similarly working to isolate that country from the rest of the world.
The Thing to Know:
On July 23, the House of Representatives voted on a proposition to condemn the international boycott-Israel movement. Three of the four Squad members voted against condemnation. But Pressley, the fourth (and the one of the four with the most public policy experience prior to November 2018) voted yes, for condemnation, and so against the practice of boycotting Israel.
Happening Now: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar hold a news conference to call on Congress “to cut funding for President Trump’s deportation force.”
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First they marched. Then they ran. And then? They won—big. In last year’s midterms, women candidates crushed glass ceilings, marking historic victories across America. Congress now has more women than ever before; 24 percent of its members are female. Maine elected its first female governor. Tennessee sent its first woman to the Senate. There were so many women running, in fact, that many firsts came in pairs: Two Native American women and two Muslim women were elected to Congress. As newly-elected Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas—one of the first Latinas ever elected to Congress from her state—puts it, it wasn’t just another Year of the Woman, a sequel to the 1992 blockbuster: It was the Year of the Woman of Color. Here, in their own words, they discuss how they got here, how they’ll fight for women, and how they plan to keep busting barriers in office.
Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)
Getty ImagesAdam Glanzman
Marie Claire: When was the first time you felt like you could make a difference in politics?
Ayanna Pressley: I grew up in a community where it was easy to feel voiceless and invisible to government. But my mother was a super voter, and I remember going with her when I was a young girl. Watching her pull back the curtain on the voting booth, standing in her power, and making her voice heard made me feel powerful and it created my abiding faith in the power of us, the people, to make a difference and create change.
MC: Why did you want to run?
AP: The Massachusetts 7th Congressional District is the most diverse district in our delegation, and also one of the most unequal. The existing disparities—in education, economic opportunity, life expectancy—have been exacerbated by Donald Trump, but they existed long before he took office, created by policies like redlining, the war on drugs, and unequal access to healthcare. The job description of our representatives in Congress has changed. In this election, voters issued a mandate not just against hate, but for hope—for bold, activist leaders who not only resist Donald Trump, but who work to advance progressive policies that will result in real progress for the people they represent.
MC: One of your favorite phrases on the trail was “the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” Why do you think that resonated with people?
AP: Too many individuals and communities have felt ignored or overlooked for too long. Our campaign did not make assumptions about who desires or deserves a seat at the table, and we offered people a stake in their government. We saw people react when they were listened to and engaged intentionally.
MC: What will be at the top of your agenda in office? What legislation do you plan to sponsor?
AP: A defining issue during my tenure on the Boston City Council, gun violence claimed the lives of several young people in my district just in the weeks following my election. Addressing the continuing impact of gun violence—and the trauma it leaves in its wake—is the reason I pushed Democratic leadership for a commitment to take early action on critical gun control legislation, and why I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
MC: What’s been the most surprising part of being on Capitol Hill?
AP: I spent 16 years as a congressional staffer, but I had forgotten how unforgiving these marble hallways are when you’re in heels. I’m going to be factoring in a few shoe changes throughout the day, but that won’t slow me down.
Deb Haaland (D-NM)
MC: What one issue will be at the top of your agenda in office?
Deb Haaland: Climate change is the number one issue—it always has been for me. Whatever bill I can pass, whatever hearing I can organize, whatever policy I can move on, whatever members of Congress I can influence to help make sure that we’re moving the issue forward, that’s definitely going to be what I do. That includes the Green New Deal, an infrastructure plan, educational opportunities, and appropriations to make sure that we’re moving the renewal energy economy forward.
MC: What Native principle do you think will be most helpful to you in Washington?
DH: Patience is probably one of them. Through our ceremonies and all the things that I was taught by my parents and my grandparents, a lot of it is patience. I’m ready to work diligently, but I realize that things don’t happen overnight.
Sharice Davids (D-KS)
MC: Why did you run?
Sharice Davids: In general, we just need more people running for office with different lived experiences. I think that means a lot of different things for me as a Native American and a member of the LGBT community. And then, also, being a first-generation college student and having to work the entire time I was in school. I looked at the slate of candidates, and I felt like I wanted something different, and I wasn’t seeing that. I wondered if anybody was going to do anything about it. Then I realized that I should. If I’m going to ask the question, then I should consider whether I can be part of the solution.
MC: How does being Native American inform your policy positions and views?
SD: My lived experience really helps me see the validity and the reality of how different everyone’s experience can be—but also how similar it can be. It really matters to recognize that although your experience is different than my experience, that it is just as real and deserving of being heard and considered when we’re talking about policy and legislation. Both Deb Haaland and I have a much deeper understanding of the relationship between tribal governments and the federal government, and what impact federal legislation and policy has on Native communities. We’ll be bringing that to the table of decision makers.
MC: What does it mean to you to be one of the first Native American women elected to Congress ever?
SD: We’re literally bringing thoughts and ideas and experiences to the conversation that haven’t been there. I think in the day-to-day it will just mean that we are bringing up things that people likely just have not thought about. The impact that can have on policy and legislation is really phenomenal.
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
Getty ImagesBill Clark
MC: Why did you get into politics?
Marsha Blackburn: I am a tremendous believer in the American dream, and preserving what I call the big five: faith, family, freedom, hope, and opportunity. Getting government off your back, out of your pocketbook. Making certain that everything I do every day is there to bolster and encourage freedom. Free people and free markets. That is what has drawn me to the political and the public service process.
MC: What was the first time you felt like you could make a difference as an elected official?
MB: In the state senate in Tennessee, I led the fight against imposition of the state income tax. Then in 2014, our state had a constitutional amendment on the ballot and we passed that amendment to forever prohibit a state income tax in the state of Tennessee.
MC: What will be at the top of your agenda in office?
MB: Broadband expansion into rural areas. The fact that mothers have to put their children into the car and drive them 15 or 20 minutes into town to get to wifi in the evening to do homework is so disruptive to family life. You can’t have 21st century education, economic development, or healthcare without access to high-speed internet. Closing that digital divide and opening those opportunities will be at the top of my to-do list.
MC: How does it feel for you to share this victory with so many other women, Republicans and Democrats, who ran and won this year?
MB: To hear from women who are business owners, who are moms, who are volunteers working in their churches and their children’s schools, communities, and just to know their hopefulness that this indeed represents another barrier that has been broken, another door that is open for their children and their grandchildren—I’m just so honored to be the one to knock the barrier down.
Ilhan Omar (D-MN)
MC: What does it mean to you to be one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress?
Ilhan Omar: It’s exciting to me to have so many firsts under my name, mostly because of all the people who tell me that they feel represented at a national level for the first time. But it’s really not why I ran. I ran because there are so many voices missing from Congress, and those voices make the environment richer and more reflective of what America actually looks like. When you don’t come from money, when you are Muslim, black, Latina, LGBTQ+, you have grown up with a different set of challenges, and the different points of view we bring because of that is all that can solve the immense challenges we face as a nation.
MC: You’re also the first refugee elected to Congress. How does that experience inform your views on politics and policy?
IO: When you have had hardship, it strengthens your resolve. Running for Congress hasn’t been easy, but coming from a refugee camp and living through war gives me perspective. Refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers have so much strength. Everything we have been through makes us thankful, determined, proud Americans. We often risked our lives to pursue the dreams that have built the American narrative. We sat on ships on far away shores and dreamt of this place, and we want it to live up to that dream. We still see the hope of the American dream because it is fresh for us.
MC: In a time of heightened Islamophobia, I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share. Is there a particular moment that stands out? How did you handle it?
IO: I do my best to not get bogged down in the hate, because it is relentless. If I took time to catalog it, I would become overwhelmed. Much of it is so ridiculous that it is hard to take seriously, especially when they try to use the worst assumptions about my faith to prop up lies about my politics. As a mother, the only time I worry is when things escalate to actual threats, and thankfully we have the people in law enforcement to handle those cases.
Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)
MC: Your historic win comes during the tenure of a president who has targeted Muslims. What does that mean to you?
Rashida Tlaib: It’s time to turn the tables on those who target the most vulnerable in our communities. It’s time they see how it feels like to have the spotlight on them for a change. I hope this shows people who look like me, or talk like me, or pray like me, that our voices are all…
Outgoing U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano says he knew even before his eventual successor Ayanna Pressley challenged him in the September primary that this year’s election was going to be a tough one for him.
But he dismissed the notion that he was targeted by voters hungry for change during a WBUR interview that aired Tuesday.
“It’s not me,” the 7th District Democrat said. “It’s whoever was in office in a place that has progressives. That [has] a lot of young people that don’t have a clue what happened yesterday, never mind five or 10 years ago. I get all that. And that’s fine. That’s not a problem to me.”
Ayanna Pressley is the first black woman that Massachusetts has ever elected to Congress. And when Pressley arrives in January, she is going to have an office with a trailblazing history of its own.
In a tweet Monday afternoon, the 7th District congresswoman-elect announced that she’s getting the former office of Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in the country elected to Congress. Pressley, who has repeatedly called Chisholm her “shero” and inspiration for running for public office, said she got the late Brooklyn congresswoman’s space after trading House office lottery numbers with fellow Democrat and soon-to-be freshman Rep. Katie Hill.
Wow! TY Mommy for the extra bday luck! We just learned my Congressional Office designation will be #ShirleyChisholm ‘s former office. How’s that for divine intervention, AND the selflessness of my colleague @KatieHill4CA who drew a better lottery# but…
The future of politics in Massachusetts is female.
I’ve thought that for a while, but Ayanna Pressley put an exclamation point on that sentence Tuesday night. Her landslide victory was also a message from the new guard in Massachusetts politics: Change can’t wait.
You’ll recognize that as Pressley’s campaign slogan, but it also should be the rallying cry of an entire movement, led by a formidable troika of Pressley, Maura Healey, and Michelle Wu.
They are the epitome of impatient women, and Massachusetts politics will never be the same.
Pressley dared to unseat a fellow Democrat, 20-year incumbent US Representative Mike Capuano, arguing that representation matters in politics, not just ideology. Now she is on a path to become the first woman of color from Massachusetts to serve in Congress.
Healey, in 2014, bucked the establishment candidate, Warren Tolman (remember, him?), when she ran for state attorney general. Like Pressley, Healey trounced…
On Tuesday, September 4, the Democratic Party’s primary voters nominated Ayanna Pressley to represent Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District in the US House of Representatives. This means the departure from Congress of a veteran, Michael Capuano, a progressive lawmaker long thought to have a safe seat.
As upsets go, this was a stunner. Capuano has been in Congress for ten terms and is the senior member of his party on the housing and insurance subcommittee of the financial services committee in the House. Had he won re-election this year, and had the Democrats won the House majority, he would have been the likely next chair of that important subcommittee.
There was never a lot of distance between Pressley and Capuano on issues. But Pressley, the first woman of color ever to serve on the Boston City Council, has benefited from the anti-incumbent mood of the day, and from some high profile endorsements.
The Thing to Know:
Having won the primary Ms Pressley is nearly certain to become a Congresswoman. The 7th is a very heavily Democratic district and the Republican Party has not even nominated a candidate for it.
Last night, in one of the most remarkable upsets of this remarkable political season, Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley clobbered longtime incumbent Representative Michael Capuano in the Seventh District of Massachusetts. It made me feel old.
It made me feel old because I remember a time, before redistricting, when most of the Seventh District of Massachusetts lay in the Eighth District. And it was in the Eighth District, as a 15-year-old in 1986, that I learned lessons about American politics that turn out to no longer be true.
That year, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who had represented the Eighth since before I was born, announced his retirement. And I began volunteering for an ardently liberal state senator named George Bachrach, who hoped to succeed him. Unfortunately for Bachrach, Joseph Kennedy II—Robert Kennedy’s son—soon entered the race, as well. Kennedy was among the least-qualified, least-impressive candidates in a crowded field. Yet in the campaign’s closing weeks, Boston’s power brokers closed ranks behind him. Kennedy won endorsements from O’Neill, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, the Boston Herald, and The Boston Globe, and went on to win. (Gerald Sullivan and Michael Kenney tell the story in their book, The Race for the Eighth.)
The message seemed clear: At the end of the day, Bachrach—a New York transplant with Jewish roots—was an outsider. Kennedy may have been less qualified, but he was more Boston. In O’Neill’s famous dictum, all politics really was local.
But that maxim is now out of date. Capuano, Kennedy’s successor, was born in Somerville, in the heart of the Eighth (now the Seventh) District. Like generations of Massachusetts pols before him, he attended law school at Boston College. He served as an alderman in Somerville, then mayor. He garnered the endorsements of Boston’s top Democrats. In a recent profile, The New York Timesdescribed him as “talking knowingly about local issues with a range of leaders he has cultivated for years” in a “thick Boston accent.”
It didn’t matter. Yesterday, Boston, a city long known for its insularity and…
Steve Kornacki, MSNBC political correspondent, discusses Ayanna Pressley’s upset Democratic primary victory that leaves her poised to take a historic seat whose lineage includes J.F.K. and Tip O’Neill, and add to that history the first African-American to serve in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts.
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