Another Establishment Congressional Black Caucus-Backed Congressman Goes Down, Cori Bush Wins

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Written by Ann Brown
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Another establishment Congressional Black Caucus-backed congressman goes down. Cori Bush wins against Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. in the Missouri Democratic primary. Photo: U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., speaks at a news conference, Aug. 16, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). Cori Bush poses for a portrait during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 27, 2019. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)

Cori Bush is a progressive activist and a Black Lives Matter protest leader who just beat establishment Democrat Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri in the July 4 Missouri Democratic primary. 

Bush, 44, is also a single mother who was once homeless, a former nurse, and pastor.

Clay lost to Bush despite solid backing from the Congressional Black Caucus and support from former presidential candidate and possible Joe Biden vice presidential pick Sen. Kamala Harris.

The upset rocked the House Democratic caucus as Clay’s family has represented the St. Louis-area congressional district for more than 50 years, The Intercept reported. 

Bush’s victory was the latest defeat of the DNC establishment at the hands of progressives. It follows middle school principal Jamaal Bowman‘s win against Representative Eliot L. Engel, a powerful committee chairman in his 16th term representing a New York City district straddling the Bronx and Westchester. 

Bush surged with an election day lead, garnering nearly 49 percent of the vote compared with 45.5 percent for Clay, according to the Associated Press. Bush led among mail-in and absentee ballots, the Intercept reported.

This was Bush’s second run against Clay after trying and failing to unseat him in 2018.

Bush’s victory came on the same night that Missouri voters decided to expand Medicaid eligibility, a significant win for progressive candidates and the groups such as the Justice Democrats, New York Times reported. 

Bush will be the first Black woman to represent the state of Missouri in Congress. 

“Tonight, Missouri’s 1st District has decided that an incremental approach isn’t going to work any longer,” Bush told supporters at a jubilant news conference after the race was called. “We decided that we the people have the answers, and we will lead from the front lines.”

It was Justice Democrats that helped groom Bush and other successful progressive challengers including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th congressional district, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th congressional district.

The four lawmakers, dubbed “The Squad,” were sworn in on Jan. 3, 2019, as members of the House of Representatives.

Tlaib successfully defended her seat in Michigan’s 13th District on Tuesday against primary challenge former Rep. Brenda Jones (D-Mich.) 

“If you don’t know, now you know: The Squad is here to stay, and it’s growing,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the Justice Democrats, in a Times interview.

The Justice Democrats, a progressive group, spent about $200,000 in support of Bush.

“Justice Democrats had initially launched with the plan to oust all 435 members of Congress, but that ambitious objective looked to be going zero for 435 heading into the spring. So the group chose one race to go all-in on — Ocasio-Cortez’s — and followed that with a win by Ayanna Pressley in Boston. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib later also won open seats, creating what is known today as the Squad,” The Intercept reported.

Clay was hampered by a former clash with the Obama administration over a key Wall Street reform rule. The clash re-emerged as a flashpoint in the final weeks of the St. Louis congressman’s fight for an 11th term, courtesy of a six-figure ad buy from an anti-monopoly group, The Intercept reported. 

Bush focused her campaign around her personal story as a working-class Black woman who became an activist after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. She joined protesters in the days after the shooting and she protested after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I was maced and beaten by those same police officers in those same streets,” Bush said. “Six months from now, as the first Black congresswoman in the entire history of Missouri, I will be holding every single one of them accountable.”

Bush’s campaign also got a boost from “Knock Down the House,” a documentary about her 2018 campaign and that of challengers like Ocasio-Cortez.

While Ocasio-Cortez backed Bush in 2018, she failed to do so this time around. Bowman did endorse Bush.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.

“Clay has played a leading role in casting Justice Democrats as flatly racist in its willingness to challenge members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Ocasio-Cortez, as an incumbent, has been under intense pressure not to get behind primary challengers to her colleagues,” The Intercept reported. 

Clay’s victory was celebrated on Twitter.

Briahna Joy Gray, a political commentator and consultant who served as Bernie Sanders’ national press secretary in his 2020 campaign, questioned why established Dems weren’t celebrating Bush’s victory.

Gray tweeted, “‘Support Black women’ establisment Dems are awfully silent about Cori Bush’s win. I’m looking at certain Black accounts in particular.”

The Moguldom Nation founder Jamarlin Martin @JamarlinMartin tweeted, “Kamala probably said ‘Cori Bush talks about the poor and corruption too much. P0LICE, AIPAC, & the corporate confederacy don’t like her. She looks like a long shot. I’m going w/ my MAN Clay, I go with low-risk calculated bets. I will move AFTER the people move.'”