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Pelosi endorses Rep. Tlaib in primary fight, moves to help members of the ‘Squad’

Rashida Tlaib, left, then-Democratic candidate for the Michigan's 13th Congressional District, and Brenda Jones speak during a rally in Detroit in 2018.
Rashida Tlaib, left, then-Democratic candidate for the Michigan's 13th Congressional District, and Brenda Jones speak during a rally in Detroit in 2018. (Paul Sancya/AP)
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is moving to help two members of the so-called “Squad” who suddenly find themselves facing difficult primaries.

Pelosi endorsed freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Wednesday, praising the Michigan Democrat after an outside group supporting her opponent, Brenda Jones, distributed a leaflet of Jones standing next to Pelosi, smiling.

The campaign flier suggested, without explicitly saying it, that Pelosi supported Jones. Pelosi wanted to ensure the district knows she stands behind Tlaib — public support that Tlaib allies believe could help her maintain her seat.

“Representative Rashida Tlaib is a tireless advocate for the residents of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District,” Pelosi said in the statement. “Rep. Tlaib never stops fighting for her district, which she is proud to represent. And I am proud to endorse her for reelection.”

2020 will test if the House's "Squad" of four progressive Democratic representatives can stay together as they face reelection in November. (Video: The Washington Post)

The statement comes two weeks after Pelosi did something similar for Rep. Ilhan Omar, who also finds herself in a suddenly competitive primary. The speaker is currently in the process of filming a video endorsing the Minnesota Democrat, whose challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, has been raising money from Omar critics around the nation, highlighting what he calls her history of divisive comments.

Omar faced a nationwide backlash from a series of remarks she made in early 2019 about American Jews that were widely considered anti-Semitic. She apologized for suggesting that Israel’s allies in American politics were motivated by money rather than principle.

Melton-Meaux has a fundraising account of $3.7 million to try to unseat her. Among his newest group of donors is Gov. Jared Polis (D) of Colorado, a former congressman and high-profile Democrat.

Rep. Omar apologizes after House Democratic leadership condemns her comments as ‘anti-Semitic tropes’

Tlaib and Omar were among the most prominent self-declared socialists to win House seats in 2018 along with their well-known colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Now the “Squad” — which also includes Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — is playing defense, seeking to protect two of their own whose fame has suddenly become a liability.

Pelosi’s move to assist both women is noteworthy given her runs-in with both in the past. On the first day of the new Congress in January 2019, Tlaib’s vow to impeach President Trump — using a profanity to describe him — complicated the party’s focus on the legislative agenda. Omar’s comments about American Jews also caused a major backlash in the House Democratic Caucus in early 2019, alienating Jewish lawmakers and creating divisions in the party.

Since then, those rifts have mended, people in both camps say, and Pelosi views both women as an asset to the caucus because of their ideals and the perspective they bring as women of color: The pair constitute the first female Muslims to serve in the U.S. House, and Pelosi has always prided herself on diversity, viewing it as a strength of the party.

People familiar with Pelosi and the lawmakers spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

In Michigan, Tlaib is in the battle of her political life against Jones, the Detroit City Council president who trailed her by a mere 900 votes in the 2018 primary. Last time around, however, Tlaib had the benefit of running in a crowded primary, which splintered the district’s majority-black electorate among several candidates vying for the job. This time, she faces only Jones, who has sought to consolidate support for the other candidates.

The primary is Tuesday.

In her endorsement of Tlaib, Pelosi listed her accomplishments, highlighting four neighborhood service centers she helped open, her bills banning facial recognition technology or boosting anti-poverty program and the $22.5 billion she secured to replace lead drinking water pipes in her district. In backing Omar, Pelosi praised her work on child nutrition, housing for low-income Americans and U.S.-Africa relations.

During normal times, Pelosi campaigns in person for incumbents and Democratic candidates. But with the coronavirus pandemic upending campaigning indefinitely, she has sought to help in other ways. She will be doing a video with Omar, which will be released before the Aug. 11 primary, according to people familiar with the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.

While the speaker is considered an establishment Democrat, those close with both congresswomen believe Pelosi could help the two liberals across the finish-line.

In interviews last week, Omar and Tlaib both stressed their strong working relationships with the speaker and said that the party’s House leadership had been supportive of their reelection bids.

“Leader Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi can tell you, I have a really strong work ethic, and I care about my district,” Tlaib said. “Because this is a so-called ‘safe’ Democratic seat, I don’t think they get involved directly. I think resources are spent for us to stay in the majority, and rightfully so.”

Omar said she was satisfied with her support from Pelosi, whom she praises in her new memoir multiple times, and cited the speaker to defend herself against the attacks from Melton-Meaux in television ads.

“You’ve seen the video of the speech Speaker Pelosi gave, about the art of the smear?” Omar said, referring to remarks Pelosi made in 2017 about Republicans running hundreds of attack ads against her. “She was talking about this sort of thing.”

Omar has criticized Melton-Meaux for not disclosing all of the contractors he has tapped for his campaign. As of mid-July, the challenger had paid nearly $1.2 million to three Delaware-based LLCs, which have little to no record of work for other candidates.

“They’ve created these shell companies to route funds to consulting firms to the tune of $1.2 million, without there being a traceable way to find out who they are, or what they’re doing on his behalf,” Omar said.”

Asked if he would reveal the identities of the contractors, Melton-Meaux said that some “have to remain within an NDA” because of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “blacklist” of contractors who work to defeat incumbents, a policy Pelosi supports.

“You have organizations and consulting firms trying to preserve their professional careers and their livelihoods, because of the onerous decision by the DCCC, frankly, that I think is trying to chill the democratic process,” Melton-Meaux said.

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