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AIPAC vs. The Squad

Issue 284

One of Washington’s most powerful lobbies is ready to spend upwards of $100 million to defeat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of The Squad.

John Tarleton Dec 19, 2023

When Bernie Sanders shocked the world by winning 13 million votes in his 2016 presidential run, Democratic Party leaders assured everyone who would listen that it was a fluke. The aging socialist’s pied piper-like appeal, it was said, only extended to “Bernie Bros” — i.e. disenchanted young white males easily carried away with lofty ideas of how the world could change for the better.

AIPAC-backed primary challengers have already been found to run against Bowman, Bush, Lee and Omar.

Then in June 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former Bernie organizer, knocked off Rep. Joe Crowley in a Queens-Bronx congressional district. Ocasio-Cortez ran as a democratic socialist on a platform of Medicare-for-All and a Green New Deal. The “King of Queens’’ was expected to someday succeed Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. Instead, he was sent packing by the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives. Later that summer, Ayanna Pressley beat a 10-term incumbent in Boston, and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar won open seats in Detroit and Minneapolis. Born was the Squad, an informal group of leftwing legislators backed by legions of small dollar donors who rose to power without the blessing of the party establishment. They were joined in 2020 by Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, who knocked off longtime incumbents in the St. Louis and the New York City suburbs respectively. In 2022, they were joined by Summer Lee from Pittsburgh.

Since taking office, Ocasio-Cortez has popularized the Green New Deal. Bush shamed the Biden administration into extending a nationwide rent moratorium during the pandemic. Tlaib has been a passionate voice for Palestinian rights, while Omar, a former Somali war refugee, has been a breath of fresh air on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The social-media savvy Squad has punched above its weight. It’s also badly outnumbered. Some on the left have questioned how much value there is in holding a handful of Congressional seats. In November, they got their answer: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was prepared to spend, according to news reports, upwards of $100 million to defeat members of The Squad in the 2024 Democratic primaries. The Squad’s early calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza was the final straw for AIPAC’s wealthy donors, many of whom are Trump supporters.

AIPAC-backed primary challengers have already been found to run against Bowman, Bush, Lee and Omar. Two Michigan Democrats have reported receiving phone calls from individuals promising on behalf of AIPAC to deliver $20 million to their campaign coffers, if they would primary Tlaib. Neither accepted.

As The Indy goes to press, it remains unclear whether AIPAC will bankroll challengers to Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley. In 2024, the biggest electoral battle of the year after the presidential race will be the struggle by Bernie’s political heirs to maintain a foothold in Congress. They will do so while confronting the perfect symbol of a system that privileges big money over everything else.

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