Members of the progressive “Squad” in the House of Representatives posted strong fundraising numbers in the fourth quarter as some face potentially well-financed primary challenges in the wake of their calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
In the final three months of 2023, the reelection campaign of Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who was censured over her remarks on Palestine, raised an eye-popping $3.6 million — more than candidates in many statewide races, including those vying for competitive Senate seats.
In the same period, the campaigns of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York netted about $1.3 million in contributions; Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota cleared about $1.6 million; Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts received about $155,000; Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri brought in more than $485,000; and Rep. Summer Lee of Pennsylvania reported receiving more than $987,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Omar, Bush and Lee already have primary challengers.
“Despite all of the attacks and malignment that these representatives have gotten, they pulled in record fundraising quarters, which shows progressive policies are still overwhelmingly popular,” said Usamah Andrabi with Justice Democrats, a group that supports progressive lawmakers, including the Squad.
Tlaib’s haul dwarfed that of fellow Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is vying for an open Senate seat in the swing state. Omar’s reelection campaign netted nearly four times as much in contributions in the fourth quarter of 2023 as it brought in during the last three months of 2021, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley were elected in the 2018 midterms as vociferous critics of Republican then-President Donald Trump. They were joined by Bush, Lee, Jamaal Bowman of New York and Greg Casar of Texas. The Squad members are ascendant progressive leaders who support policies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, stances that are popular with voters in the Democratic Party’s left wing, but sometimes put them out of step with more moderate party leaders.
Members of the Squad have been some of the loudest voices in Congress calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in retaliation for an October 7 attack by Hamas militants, who killed more than a thousand Israeli civilians and took hundreds of hostages. Their call reflects the position of much of their liberal base: Nearly half of all U.S. adults now say Israel has gone “too far” in Gaza, with non-White and younger Democrats the most disapproving of President Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict. Even still, the Squad’s advocacy has put them at odds with administration policy and many of their fellow lawmakers, including Democrats in the lower chamber.
Tlaib, who is the only Palestinian-American in Congress, was censured by her House colleagues in November for “promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.” Tlaib had shared a video in which she said Biden was supporting “genocide” of Palestinian people in Gaza that included a clip of protestors chanting “from the river to the sea.” Tlaib said that, to her, the pro-Palestinian slogan is an “aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence”; others interpret it as anti-Semitic and calling for the end of the Israeli state. About two dozen of Tlaib’s Democratic colleagues voted to censure her.
Omar had already been removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier last year by House Republicans after they won control of the chamber in the 2022 midterms. In 2019, shortly after her election to Congress, Omar had made a series of comments about the political influence of Jewish donors that were widely condemned as being anti-Semitic. She apologized. Omar, who was born in Somalia, said her removal from the committee some four years later was about “who gets to be an American.” Ocasio-Cortez called it “racism” against Muslim members of Congress. Tlaib and Omar are two of only three Muslims serving in Congress and the first-ever Muslim women.
When Bush introduced a resolution in mid-October calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, the entire Squad was among the 18 total lawmakers who co-sponsored it. Then, when the House weighed a resolution backing Israel and condemning Hamas, six of the nine Democrats who voted against it were members of the Squad.
The Squad’s support for Palestinians has put them on a collision course with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC. The pro-Israel lobby has long wielded influence in Washington but in late 2021 formed a political action committee, which can spend money directly opposing and supporting candidates. The super PAC, United Democracy Project, went on to spend more than $26 million in the 2022 midterms cycle, according to campaign finance filings analyzed by OpenSecrets.
During Omar’s 2022 primary, for example, United Democracy Project gave about $350,000 to a super PAC supporting her moderate primary opponent, Don Samuels. Samuels is again challenging Omar in Minnesota’s Democratic congressional primaries, and he says their responses to the Israel-Hamas war are a differentiator in the race.
United Democracy Project likewise opposed Lee during her 2022 primary — then again during the general election. United Democracy Project has already run ads against Lee this cycle. Two potential challengers to Tlaib said that AIPAC-aligned donors offered to fund bids to unseat her — AIPAC itself has denied involvement in those recruitment efforts.
United Democracy Project reported raising $35 million in the second half of 2023, putting it in a formidable financial position as Democratic primaries begin ahead of the 2024 general elections.
“While we oppose anti-Israel candidates, we support numerous pro-Israel progressives, including nearly half of the memberships of the congressional Progressive Caucus, Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus. Moreover, AIPAC-PAC is the largest PAC contributor to Democratic candidates,” AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told The 19th in a statement.
Andrabi countered that AIPAC and its super PAC in the 2022 midterms also endorsed dozens of Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying Biden’s legitimate victory in the 2020 presidential election. He noted that some donors to Republican presidential candidates also give money to AIPAC or its super PAC, which means that “a small handful of Black and brown progressive incumbents are up against a Republican-funded Super PAC” that is impacting their Democratic primary elections.
Bush’s campaign called her primary challenger, local prosecutor Wesley Bell, who has staked out a pro-Israel stance, a “Republican-backed opponent” who will be taking money from “some of the same GOP megadonors who have funded and backed Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis.”
“We are so proud of the historic fundraising quarter we had, our strongest in all of 2023,” Bush said in a statement to The 19th. “I am proud to be pushing forward a pro-St. Louis, pro-democracy, pro-peace agenda in Congress.”