(Headline USA) The next session of Congress may go on without either of its two obstreperous and controversial Muslim congresswomen.
After reports that her self-declared “sister,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was being outraised considerably by a Democrat primary challenger, troubles are now shaping up for Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who faces, perhaps, an even greater challenge from an established Detroit Democrat.
Tlaib had been in Congress for a matter of hours when she was seen on video telling supporters that she and other Democrats were going to impeach President Donald Trump, using an expletive rather than Trump’s name. The room full of activists cheered, but some people back home—and in Democratic leadership—were not pleased.
It wasn’t the last time Tlaib’s approach to governing—shaking up the political status quo alongside three other first-term congresswomen who form “the Squad”—would make her a target of criticism.
And every time, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones says, agitated constituents would call and encourage her to challenge her fellow Michigan Democrat to a rematch of their 2018 battle for the party’s congressional nomination.
Now Tlaib is the Squad’s most vulnerable member as she and Jones prepare to square off again in Michigan’s Aug. 4 primary.
The only other member of the Squad still facing a primary challenge is Omar, whose top challenger on Aug. 11 is a political newcomer Antone .
Melton–Meaux raised millions more than the incumbent Omar last quarter, with some of his donations coming from pro-Israel groups and conservative donors.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez easily won her primary last month, while Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley is unopposed.
Tlaib, meanwhile, has a huge financial advantage over Jones, having raised more than $2 million. As in 2018, she has backing from the political action committee Justice Democrats and other progressive groups.
Jones has brought in only about $140,000, but already she has shown that a massive war-chest of outside money won’t guarantee victory for Tlaib.
Jones was far outraised in 2018 and lost by only 1 percentage point. And the four other former primary candidates in the current race are all now backing Jones.
Diverging Democrat Visions
The Detroit primary battle underscores to the broader debate in the Democratic Party between the establishment and largely younger, more radical, progressive activists.
Jones’s challenge also portends the inevitable collisions and frictions within intersectional identity politics, highlighting the racial dynamics of a heavily Democratic Detroit-area district at a time when the social injustices of the black community are getting renewed attention.
Over half of the residents in the district are black, while the rest are a mix of white, Arab American, Latino and other races. Tlaib, a Palestinian who was born and raised in Detroit, was one of the first two female Muslim members of Congress; Jones is black.
Democrats’ coalition of competing interest-groups has sometimes come into conflict—notably in bouts of anti-Semitism expressed by pro-Palestinian and black Muslim leaders.
But the globalist outlook of progressives like Tlaib—envisioning massive spending packages like the multi-trillion-dollar Green New Deal—also fails to resonate on a more basic level with lower-income voters who are struggling to get by in the conflict zones within their own neighborhoods during a sputtering economy and health crisis.
It all boils down to one thing for a district that is among the country’s poorest: who can “bring home the bacon,” Jones said.
“There are things that I might feel, but I just don’t say in public and an example is ‘impeach the M-F’ on the very first day,” said Jones, 60.
“Not to say you’re going to always agree, but you have to be able to work with those people because you never know who you’re going to need in order to get things done that need to be done,” she added.
Black Votes Matter
The two candidates have a history. In 2018, Jones finished a close second to Tlaib in a six-person primary for the seat long held by Democratic Rep. John Conyers, who stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations.
But Jones defeated Tlaib in a two-person special election to finish the final weeks of Conyers’ term—which she did, spending five weeks in Washington before Tlaib was sworn in for the full term in January.
Conyers was also black and was the longest-serving black member of Congress, holding office for over five decades.
Ian Conyers, whose grandfather was the former congressman’s brother, said the district was drawn to ensure a voice for black residents, and he believes it should continue to have a black representative, particularly following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the elevation of racial justice issues.
“Folks are wanting someone to make their case in their own words,” said Conyers, who also ran in the 2018 primary.
He said other candidates of color should look to gain political power in white districts, “and not simply look at urban areas and the African–American community as a place to win a seat.”
Besides the racial issues, Conyers said Tlaib has been too focused on issues outside the district.
Jones points to moments like last summer, when Tlaib booed Hillary Clinton at an event for Clinton’s former rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in his 2020 presidential bid.
Tlaib remains unapologetic.
“I didn’t have to change who I am” to please voters, Tlaib said. “I didn’t sell out. That’s one thing I promised them, that I wouldn’t do it. And I didn’t.”
The ‘Real’ Deal?
However, some black voters who planned to support Tlaib said race didn’t matter.
William Clark, 74, thinks Jones is too conservative.
“Black, white, Hispanic, Martian, I don’t care who is in power, just do what you say you’re going to do,” he said. “Rashida will speak. She is real.”
Branden Snyder, who leads the grassroots organization Detroit Action, called Tlaib a “visionary” and praised her candor and willingness to fight, saying she isn’t beholden to “the same old status quo.”
“Right now politics as usual ain’t been working for our communities,” Snyder said during an event announcing the organization’s endorsement of Tlaib.
Tlaib says that she has legislated exactly the way she promised and that she’s gotten results by pushing back against those who are too cozy with corporations and big developers.
She denies that her uncompromising approach has clogged the political works within the Beltway by making powerful enemies.
She notes that Trump signed into law a bill she sponsored to protect retirees’ pension benefits—even if she didn’t get invited to the White House for the signing—and that she’s gotten amendments approved with bipartisan support, including a measure that provides billions to replace lead pipes and prioritizes low-income communities.
“I’m pretty tenacious, and it’s resulting in actual things getting done,” Tlaib said.
“It’s not just about me as a person, but all of the various social justice issues that I’ve been standing up for for the last year and a half that have not been popular among the wealthy,” she added.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press