Rashida Tlaib Faces Primary Vote Challenge on Tuesday

First Palestinian-American woman ever elected to U.S. Congress and outspoken BDS supporter seeks de-facto reelection in heavily Democratic district

Amir Tibon
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U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich) addresses a rally protesting against racial inequality in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. on June 6, 2020. 
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich) addresses a rally protesting against racial inequality in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. on June 6, 2020. Credit: REBECCA COOK/ REUTERS
Amir Tibon

Voters in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District will decide on Tuesday whether to give another term in office to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to Congress and one of the only outspoken supporters of the BDS movement on Capitol Hill.

Tlaib’s district, which includes parts of the city of Detroit and its suburbs, is one of the most Democratic districts in the country. That’s why the Democratic primary within the district has been for years the de-facto election, since whoever emerges as the winner in the party contest is almost certain to win the general election in November.

Tlaib was first elected to represent the district in the 2018 mid-term election. She won that year’s primary with only 31 percent of the vote, which was enough for her to finish first in a six-contender primary. This year, however, she has only one opponent in Tuesday’s primary: Brenda Jones, president of the Detroit City Council.

Jones briefly represented the 13th district in Congress in 2018, after she won a special election to replace Congressman John Conyers, who resigned from office. Jones then competed in the 2018 primary and lost to Tlaib by a margin of less than 1,000 votes. Most of the other contenders in that year’s primary have since endorsed Jones, who is now trying to win a re-match against Tlaib.

Jones is African-American, and so is a majority of the district’s population, but there is also a significant Arab and Muslim population within the district. Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who was also first elected in 2018, are the first Muslim women ever to be elected to Congress; and while there have been other Palestinian-American lawmakers before her (including fellow Michigander Justin Amash), she was the community’s first woman elected to Congress.

In her current battle against Jones, Tlaib enjoys the support of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and of several large unions that have significant membership within her district. She also has a large cash advantage over Jones, who only recently began to air television advertisements in the district.

One of Jones’ main lines of attack against Tlaib is that she has devoted too much time to national and international political issues, instead of working to improve the situation in the district. Tlaib has indeed made national headlines regularly, most notably last summer when she was barred from entering Israel following pressure by President Donald Trump on the Israeli government.

Tlaib also drew attention in early 2019 when, on he first day as a sworn member of Congress, she said that Democrats should “impeach the motherfucker,” referring to Trump. She has also expressed support for the BDS movement and for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The vast majority of Democratic members of Congress reject her positions on these issues, as does the party’s presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Tlaib, who endorsed Biden’s main opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic presidential primary, has also been criticized by Jones and her supporters for recently refusing to endorse Biden for president. Tlaib said in an interview that she has disagreements with Biden and that for voters in her district, the main motivation in November will be to come out and vote against Trump, and therefore she doesn’t need to express support for Biden.

Tlaib and Omar are both part of “The Squad,” a group of Congresswomen who were first elected in 2018 and who are trying to push the Democratic Party further to the left. The group also includes Reps. Alexandria Occasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayana Presssley (D-MA). While Occasio-Cortez easily won her own primary race last month, Omar is also facing a tough primary of her own, which will take place next week.

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