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'Cori Hasn't Hesitated.' From Police to Palestine, Missouri's Bush Has National Voice
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=59716"><span class="small">Bryan Lowry and Kelsey Landis, McClatchy</span></a>   
Monday, 07 June 2021 12:50

Excerpt: "When House leaders learned that freshman Missouri Rep. Cori Bush was going to oppose a $1.9 billion bill to upgrade U.S. Capitol security, they enlisted the senior colleague from her home state in the hope that he could dissuade her."

'Everything I do is through a racial justice lens,' says first-term Congress member Cori Bush. (photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
'Everything I do is through a racial justice lens,' says first-term Congress member Cori Bush. (photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

'Cori Hasn't Hesitated.' From Police to Palestine, Missouri's Bush Has National Voice

By Bryan Lowry and Kelsey Landis, McClatchy

07 June 21


hen House leaders learned that freshman Missouri Rep. Cori Bush was going to oppose a $1.9 billion bill to upgrade U.S. Capitol security, they enlisted the senior colleague from her home state in the hope that he could dissuade her.

“People came to me from leadership and said, ‘Hey we think your home girl is going to vote against the funding bill, which would include Capitol Hill police. Would you mind having a conversation with her?’” recalled Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

Bush sat down with Cleaver and listened to his arguments, but didn’t defer to the older Democrat. It’s a sign of her willingness to buck pressure from party leadership — or, for that matter, anyone — when it comes to the issue of policing.

“I stand firmly,” Bush told The Star last month, speaking generally. “I won’t be pushed back by any Congress member.”

The two Democrats, who represent St. Louis and Kansas City respectively, both broke barriers in their paths from civil rights activism to elected office. Cleaver, 76, was Kansas City’s first Black mayor. Bush, 44, is the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.

But last month’s vote highlighted their generational and ideological differences.

Bush was one of just three Democrats, along with Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, to oppose the security legislation, a response to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Cleaver said he appealed to Bush by pointing out that the bill would have an impact on all Capitol workers. “If you can’t vote on bonuses for Capitol Hill police, vote for the bonuses of people who clean the bathroom,” he said.

The congresswomen said the bill did not do enough to help heal traumatized Capitol workers, spending 50 times more on creation of a quick reaction force within the Capitol Police than on counseling. The increased security, they argued, will not expose the root causes of the attack or ensure greater safety.

Bush put it bluntly on Twitter the following day: “Investing more money in policing is always bad, actually.”

Just five months into her first term, Bush is one of the most visible faces of the Democratic Party’s left wing. Her fiery speeches and social media have made her a favorite of progressive activists and a target for national Republicans, who are eager to tie vulnerable suburban Democrats to her agenda ahead of the 2022 mid-term elections.

The online furor set off by the nine-word tweet on police funding has become routine for the Missouri freshman as her national profile has inspired a legion of antagonists.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and other conservative Republicans quickly condemned her comment. It also provoked criticism from centrists and commentators who accused Bush of oversimplifying the issue.

Bush brushed off the backlash.

“I don’t even believe it was misconstrued. I just think people don’t like to hear it,” she said, contending that for years St. Louis sank money into policing while under-investing “in the resources that will actually help to keep us safe.”

St. Louis has the highest murder rate in the U.S. among major cities at 64.54 per 100,000 residents (Kansas City is eighth with 29.88), according to FBI statistics, a fact often cited by Bush’s opponents but which she regards as proof the current approach is not working.

In June, she will unveil a major police reform bill, which will exemplify this philosophy. It’s the issue she campaigned on after years of organizing protests following the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. His death galvanized activists both in Missouri and nationally.

Bush, a nurse and a pastor who was homeless for a period in the early 2000s, said her goal is to treat public safety as a health issue and to reduce the range of problems handled by law enforcement. The bill will provide grants intended to shift responsibility for various issues from police to other social services, a change she says will save lives.

“Having more police does not necessarily make us safer,” Bush said. “When we have police responding to calls for people who are in a mental health crisis, domestic violence situations, substance abuse situations… There are people who are specifically trained to be able to work with people in those situations to bring about the best outcomes.”

Jane Dueker, an attorney who represents the police unions for St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri, said Bush’s strident stance is a drag on other Democrats.

“She has not backed off from this idea that defund means defund and abolish. And I think she becomes a gift for Republicans every time she goes there, so I do think it becomes a problem for Democrats because all Democrats are going to be painted as defunders,” said Dueker, who served as chief of staff to Missouri Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in the early 2000s.

“It’s just too radical of an idea. It just is.”

From the streets of Ferguson to Congress

Bush’s allies say she’s doing exactly what voters in her district expected and wanted.

“Cori’s going to take a lot of heat, period. Just coming from the idea that she was involved in Ferguson,” said St. Louis Democratic state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a fellow activist turned lawmaker who described Bush as his “big sister” in the Ferguson movement.

“She has a platform as a congresswoman, and we all know these things come and go, so this can be that one moment where a protester from a place that changed the world, Ferguson, has a seat in the halls of power.”

Kristian Blackmon, a St. Louis housing activist who met Bush during the Ferguson protests, applauded her for staying true to the movement since her election.

“Sometimes people kind of tiptoe and slowly become more and more vocal when they’re a freshman and they’re new and they don’t know whether to say this or that, but Cori hasn’t hesitated at all. She just came right in speaking truth to power.”

Bush has also offered a new approach to public utilities, introducing a resolution in June to “establish electricity as a basic human right and public good.” She argues that the current system of for-profit power companies has disadvantaged communities of color.

Bush’s social media microphone is massive: more than 820,000 Twitter followers on her main account. That is better than 16 times the audience of any other House member from Missouri, and nearly 200,000 more than Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, an active social media user and likely presidential aspirant.

But this spotlight also makes her a target.

Missouri Republicans tethered Democratic gubernatorial nominee Nicole Galloway to Bush during the 2020 election. It’s a strategy that will soon go national.

“Whether it’s defunding the police, abolishing ICE, or attacks on our allies in Israel, vulnerable Democrats will be answering for Bush’s radical positions for years to come,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Mike Berg. The former aide to Hawley oversaw communications in 2020 for Uniting Missouri, the GOP PAC behind the attacks linking Bush to Galloway, who announced June 4 that she would not run again for state auditor, or any office, next year.

Bush’s 1st Congressional District, which covers St. Louis and adjacent communities, is the only one in Missouri with a Black plurality and no rural areas.

For twenty years the House seat was held by Democrat William Lacy Clay, a close ally of Cleaver’s and whose father served before him. He had arguably the most liberal voting record in the state delegation. Bush ran to Lacy Clay’s left, with a strong focus on police reform and outspoken support for Medicare-for-All and other progressive policy goals.

After her surprise primary win, she won the general election by nearly 60 points.

Cleaver noted that he and Bush vote the same way nearly 99% of the time. Her differences with the older generation of Missouri Democrats have less to do with the votes she’s cast and more with what she’ll say and which issues she’ll elevate.

“I think she has a different congressional district than anybody else and it is dramatically different from anybody else’s, including mine,” said Cleaver, whose district includes both Kansas City’s urban core and rural communities east of the city.

“I think she has presented a kind of philosophy that will very likely play better in her district than any of the others.”

“When she first got elected, she had to go to the thrift store to find clothes,” Aldridge said. “Because she’s still a mother, a single mother… and she’s still her district.”

“She knows that her district’s got her back. We come in 10 toes behind her because we know she’s representing the people who elected her.”

‘Not willing to compromise on what we need to do’

Bush’s Missouri colleagues didn’t have to wait long before learning that it would not be business as usual. Her first piece of legislation called for the expulsion of every lawmaker who supported the efforts to overturn the 2020 election. It would have required the ouster of six members of the state’s federal delegation, including Hawley and Missouri Republican Reps. Vicky Hartzler, Sam Graves, Billy Long, Jason Smith and Blaine Luetkemeyer

“The white supremacist insurrection on January 6th was not a sign that this country needs more unity, it was a sign that our country has yet to dismantle white supremacy. Don’t get it twisted,” Bush said on Twitter in May.

“As I’m sitting in these committees with other members who allowed for this and won’t speak up and speak out against what happened on Jan. 6… It’s very hard because we show up to do the exact same job,” she said in an interview.

“We have the same jurisdiction, the same authority. We have voting power and we have the power of the pen and the power of the purse. It’s disturbing, but what I won’t do is allow that to distract me from what St. Louis needs.”

Asked whether this stance has made it difficult to build relationships with other members of the Missouri delegation, Bush said her door is open to other members of the delegation who are willing to listen to the needs of St. Louis.

“But I am not willing to compromise on what we need to do,” she said.

Missouri Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, the only House Republican from Missouri to vote against overturning the election, said she does not have the same bipartisan connection with Bush that she had with Lacy Clay.

“I have not yet been able to work with her much on local issues, but it’s unfortunate that she continues to espouse dangerous anti-police rhetoric that is so harmful to our communities,” said Wagner, who represents the adjacent suburban district.

Wagner also criticized Bush’s stance on Israel. Bush condemned it an “apartheid state” after it launched airstrikes on Gaza that killed Palestinian civilians. The strikes were in response to Hamas rocket attacks.

“What we are seeing and have been seeing is… one of the most advanced militaries in the world attacking a largely defenseless, captive civilian population. That’s what it is,” Bush said, pointing to the United Nations’ tracking of civilian casualties.

“We cannot support this. We cannot fund this. And we cannot keep sending the weapons.”

Neveen Ayesh, government relations coordinator for the Missouri chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, said she had little success in getting Lacy Clay to speak out on the plight of Palestinians and that Bush’s full-throated advocacy has been a significant change.

“I know what that costs her. I know what she’s risking. I don’t know what more I could ask for in a congressperson,” said Ayesh, a 28-year-old St. Louis resident who spent part of her childhood in the West Bank village of Betein.

Bush’s support for the cause has resonated with others in the Black Lives Matter movement, who see parallels between Palestine and Ferguson.

But the violence abroad has also coincided with a string of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. The St. Louis Jewish Light, a Jewish newspaper in her district, accused Bush of refusing to conduct an interview, which would have included questions about Israel.

“There are plenty of local Jews who may see one side as more deserving of the blame for the latest round of fighting than the other — and are also aghast at all the lives lost. But they see their congressional representative only expressing concern for Palestinians, not Israelis,” a recent editorial from Jewish Light said.

Bush declined to comment specifically on the editorial, but she rebutted the notion that she’s not listening to Jewish constituents.

“Let’s be clear. I’m in deep conversation with Jewish constituents and I’m continuing to work very hard across our district to make sure their voices are heard as well. … It has been said I’m anti-Semitic. I’m not anti-Semitic. I don’t want to see anyone being discriminated against. I don’t want to see anyone losing their lives,” she said.

The Squad

Bush was less clear in responding to another recent controversy.

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative newspaper, reported that Bush worked as a faith healer after training with Charles Ndifon, head of the Rhode Island-based Christ Love Ministries International. The paper also said she had called Ndifon to heal her when she contracted COVID-19 last year.

Bush called the article a misrepresentation, but confirmed that she spoke with Ndifon while she was suffering from COVID. “I did have a conversation with Charles Ndifon. And he prayed with me and I believe in the power of prayer. I’m a pastor. But in that moment, I was not healed,” Bush said.

However, she did not clarify whether she had ever performed faith healing during her tenure as pastor for Kingdom Embassy International Church in St. Louis, as alleged in the article. Her spokeswoman would also not comment on the matter, calling it “misinformation spread by right-wing media.”

Bush has forged close ties with other members of “The Squad,” an informal name for some of the most progressive members of Congress, including New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Omar, one of the first two Muslim in Congress, invoked Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress, to describe Bush.

“As another woman of color in federal office, I know how difficult it can be to do this in the face of constant distortions, harassment, and hate speech,” Omar said in a statement.

“But much like Shirley Chisholm, Cori Bush is unbought, unbossed and unbothered.” your social media marketing partner