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‘For me, it’s about the mission’: why Cori Bush is just starting out in Congress

IIf the US political status quo worked, Congresswoman Cori Bush may not have slept on the steps of the US Capitol to demand an extension of the moratorium on coronavirus-era expulsion. She may not have testified about her decision to have an abortion, and sent the details of her experience to the official congressional record. She may not have run for Congress at all.

But as the St. Louis congressman sees it, she was sent to Washington to disrupt a political order that long ago didn’t work for people like herself — a nurse, preacher, and activist who worked for minimum wage, once out. a car lived and raised two children as a single mother. And she says she’s just getting started.

“I ran and I lost and I ran and I lost. I kept running because there was a mission behind it,” Bush said in an interview. “It wasn’t about wanting to be someone in Congress – I know some people have those ambitions – but for me it was more about the mission. And I have not yet completed that mission.”

Midway through an extraordinary first term, and gearing up for reelection, Bush is one of the most recognizable — and quoteable — members of the House. She is part of the progressive “Squad” and is convinced that her own personal hardships make her a better and more responsive representative. Her personal story is what connects her to her constituents and sets her apart in Congress.

When her colleagues left Washington for their weeklong summer recess without extending the federal eviction moratorium, Bush was left behind. After experiencing the pain of poverty and eviction, she could not comprehend that hundreds of thousands of Americans were vulnerable to homelessness as the coronavirus ravaged the US. In an instant, she decided to have a sit-in on the steps of the US Capitol.

Her protest on the steps of the Capitol drew widespread national attention and, in effect, shamed party leaders to find a solution where they had maintained there was none. Ultimately, the White House extended the temporary eviction ban.

Representative Cori Bush thanks protesters who joined her protest against evictions on Capitol Hill on Aug. 3, 2021. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The hard-fought victory was a significant moment for Bush and her team. She said it proved to her voters in St. Louis that she would always put them first, even if it put her at odds with Democrats, party leaders and even the president of the United States.

“For us, winning that extension of the eviction moratorium was a big part of the story of who we said we’d be in Congress, we said we’d do the job, do the absolute most, and that was the absolute most we could. to do.”

Now, she continued, “the White House knows that about us too.”

Bush describes himself as a “politivist” – part politician, part activist. According to her, the roles are complementary, not oppositional.

“A lot of times, because you hear it in your communities, people expect that when you go to Congress, you’re going to change. That’s the expectation,” she says. “I think we’ve already been able to show that St. Louis is the first…. St. Louis is the heart of everything we do.”

Bush rose to fame as a Black Lives Matter organizer in Ferguson, Missouri, where the movement was born after 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr was shot and killed by a white police officer. Bush, the daughter of a local councilor, said she was considering running for public office only after the protests.

In 2020, Bush became the first black woman to represent the state of Missouri when she was elected to Congress after two failed campaigns — first to the Senate in 2016 and again to Congress in 2018. To win, she dethroned Democratic incumbent, William Lacy Clay. Clay had held the seat for 20 years succeeding his father, William Clay Sr, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, first elected in 1968.

She was sworn in three days before the Capitol was attacked by a pro-Trump mob.

“We were still in our office when the uprising took place,” she said. “We didn’t have a panic button yet.”

“So that was our introduction to Congress,” she continued. “Since we started in such an unexpected place, a terrible place, for us, it was like, ‘OK, dig in.'”

While locked in their office, Bush and her staff drafted a resolution to “investigate and expel” any member of Congress who attempted to reverse the election results and “instigate a white supremacist attack.”

The resolution reflected growing animosity among members of Congress. Bush has said that she feels like she is being targeted by her own colleagues.

Shortly after the attack, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ordered the move of Bush’s office after asking to be removed from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene out of concern for the safety of its staff.

Cori Bush shares her own abortion story at a House hearing on reproductive rights on September 30, 2021.
Cori Bush shares her own abortion story at a House hearing on reproductive rights on September 30, 2021. Photo: REX/Shutterstock

Earlier this month, Bush joined House progressives to pressure party leaders to remove Congressman Lauren Boebert from her committee duties over her Islamophobic comments directed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim. At a press conference, she leaned on Boebert, calling her a “lying, Islamophobic, race-baiting, violence-inducing, white supremacist sentiment-spreading, Christmas tree-armed elected official” who is a “danger” to her country and her colleagues.

Like her “squad” colleagues, Bush has not been afraid to challenge Democratic leaders, even the president.

“I am who I am,” she said. “I’m not taking off my activist hat to legislate in Congress. And that has been the guiding force all along.”

During a tense stalemate over Biden’s agenda earlier this year, Bush accused Democratic leaders of breaking their promise to progressives by decoupling two parts of Biden’s agenda: a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a sweeping social policy package. In a word, she captured the sense of betrayal of progressives: “Bamboozled.” TV network chyrons snapped at the comment and soon Bush was on TV pleading their case. House leaders postponed the vote.

A month later, Bush was one of only six House Democrats to vote against the infrastructure bill Biden signed last month. Not because she opposed the bill that would cost billions to improve Missouri’s bridges and highways, but because she feared passing the bill without the bigger social policies that have been a priority for progressives would strip them of their influence.

Bush now fears she was right. After months of effort to appease conservative Democratic senators, Joe Manchin announced that he could not support the $2.2 trillion social safety net bill, ruining his chances in the evenly divided chamber.

Bush, who previously denounced Manchin’s opposition to the package as “anti-black, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-immigrant”, blamed the party leadership entirely.

“Frankly, I am frustrated with every Democrat who has agreed to tie the fate of our most vulnerable communities to the corporatist ego of one senator. No one should have backed down from our initial strategy that would have kept Build Back Better alive,” she tweeted. She tagged the president and said, “You have to fix this.

Still, the Bush activist is not done fighting for the measure, which was passed by the House of Representatives in November. “We can’t say next year, ‘The House has done its part, and now it’s the Senate’s turn,'” she said recently. “We need the Senate to make this happen.”

Bush is also working to raise issues of racial justice, which she said the party isn’t doing enough to prioritize.

Attempts to pass police reform failed earlier this year and voting rights legislation continues to stall in the Senate. The Supreme Court will soon rule on the future of abortion access.

Bush said her Capitol protest was inspired by the moment, but she’s not ruling out future action.

“When I feel led to move that way, based on whatever happens, it’s never off the table for me,” she said.

Some lawmakers are critical of her legislative style. They call it divisive at worst and naive at best. The suggestion is that she will eventually have to learn to compromise and abide by the rules.

But in light of Manchin’s opposition, Bush is… even more confident of her approach.

“If that was the gold star, we’d be a lot further along in this country,” she said. “There’s more than one way to get things done.”