Santa Fe New Mexican

‘The Squad’ handles celebrity and Trump’s attacks

- By Robert Samuels

WASHINGTON — Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., stood on top of the edge of a flower bed to address a swelling crowd of a union protesters. She was a few seconds into her speech when a worker interrupte­d her.

“We love the Squad!” the woman yelled.

“We are all the Squad!” Tlaib shouted back. ” While he tweets, we will march!”

In the weeks since President Donald Trump’s July 14 tweet telling Tlaib and three minority female colleagues, who are all citizens, the lawmakers known as “the Squad” — Tlaib and fellow Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachuse­tts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — have experience­d a surge of interest and support. Fundraisin­g for their political campaigns has spiked, as have their online followings.

But the heightened notoriety has come with complicati­ons.

The women are trying to manage the risk of being perceived as more of a pop sensation than serious purveyors of policy, according to aides. Amid the Squad mania over the past few weeks, aides said they had rejected pitches for photo shoots from two fashion magazines.

The ultimate goal, the lawmakers say, is to harness Trump’s negative messages about them into something potentiall­y positive — a bigger platform to press their agenda.

“What Trump is doing is trying to play to his base,” OcasioCort­ez said. “Except the thing is, we’ve got a base, too. That’s not something he’s used to.”

Trump alluded to them at his Cincinnati rally on Thursday without naming them — saying the “Democrat Party is now being led by four left-wing extremists who reject everything that we hold dear.” The scene at the union rally where Tlaib spoke last month, outside Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., demonstrat­ed the Squad’s emerging power. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren of Massachuse­tts, two of the most prominent liberal Democratic candidates for president, also addressed the crowd — but neither received as raucous of an ovation as the freshman congresswo­man from Detroit.

Tlaib told the audience that Trump’s “hate agenda” helped distract the country from his tax cuts to the rich while union workers like them struggled to make a living wage.

Aides to the four lawmakers privately say they are concerned about the toll of the intensifie­d attention they are receiving. After the women interviewe­d with Gayle King for CBS This Morning, their press teams severely limited access to them. The “squad” moniker started with Ocasio-Cortez after she posted a photo of the women on Instagram with a caption using the popular Internet phrase.

The newly elected congresswo­men all had broken ground — Ocasio-Cortez, at 29, was the youngest woman elected to Congress; Tlaib and Omar were the first Muslim women lawmakers on the Hill; and Pressley is the first black woman to represent a district from Massachuse­tts.

They are all known as being ardent and outspoken liberals who support ideas that Republican­s describe as socialist, including tuition-free college and government-run health care. Each embody different political styles. For example, Tlaib has made news for her self-described “raw” language while Pressley tends to speak in sweeping, alliterati­ve prose.

One day late last month, Ocasio-Cortez strode into a congressio­nal building, unaware that she was being followed by three teenagers. As she stood in a hallway, they decided to approach.

“I can’t believe I ran into you!” one said, asking for a selfie.

A line of admirers soon formed. They were in many cases indicative of the diverse coalition Ocasio-Cortez and her allies represent.

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