Cori Bush Is Taking on Congress’ QAnon Kooks—and the White House
“Cori has been a fighter her whole life,” said Mondaire Jones, a fellow freshman Democrat.
When maniacal insurrectionists stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, Rep. Cori Bush was, like many elected officials, “sitting in our office in lockdown,” fearful of what could come next. More than three weeks later, she says she is still not safe.
Confronting the actualized threat of white supremacy from her new position in the House, Bush, a Black progressive Democrat from Missouri, immediately introduced a resolution to expel members who were potentially involved in planning or escalating the calamitous scene.
Since then, she contends that the targeting has not subsided—even in the halls of Congress.
On Friday, Bush said that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—a controversial Republican newcomer from Georgia who has expressed fondness for the baseless QAnon conspiracy—“berated” her in the hallway on Jan. 13, exactly one week after the deadly riot. Taylor Greene, in a tweet with an accompanying video, responded by calling Bush the leader of a “terrorist mob.”
“I was walking with my staff to vote,” Bush said in a statement, recounting the experience. “I was in the tunnel between the Cannon Office Building and the Capitol when Marjorie Taylor Greene came up from behind me, ranting loudly into her phone while not wearing a mask. This took place one day after multiple of my House colleagues announced they had tested positive for COVID-19 after being in a room with Taylor Greene during the white supremacist attack on the Capitol.”
“Out of concern for the health of my staff, other members of Congress, and their congressional staff, I repeatedly called out to her to put on a mask. Taylor Greene and her staff responded by berating me, with one staffer yelling, ‘Stop inciting violence with Black Lives Matter.’”
Bush soon moved her office citing escalating safety concerns.
Facing an extended period of intersecting racial, health, and economic crises, congressional progressives have identified Bush as an emerging leader to help shepherd Democrats through a time of grave unrest and urgent legislation. Three members—Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Mondaire Jones (D-NY)—told The Daily Beast that Bush is uniquely poised to push for reforms as a matter of practical necessity, citing her activism, medical acumen, and lived experience as a Black working class woman as valuable to advancing a left-aligned agenda.
“Cori has been a fighter her whole life,” said Jones, a freshman Democrat. “From literally saving lives as a nurse to leading protests for racial justice in Ferguson to raising kids by herself, it’s no surprise to me that she’s hit the ground running from day one.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Bush, 44, said that her early days in Washington are intrinsically linked to her personal story, which includes a rise to office after surviving domestic violence and economic hardship that led to a bout of homelessness. Detailing her tactical approach, Bush said she intends to regularly share some of those harsher lived realities to help members better understand Americans’ daily battles, a mandate that is particularly crucial as President Joe Biden takes over from former President Donald Trump under tenuous conditions.
“That is why I wanted to come to Congress,” Bush said over the phone on Thursday afternoon. “Not just come in and fly under the radar just to have a title.”
The expulsion resolution, Bush’s first move in office, received dozens of co-signers. And Greene wasn’t Bush’s only target. She spent a significant portion of time demanding accountability for Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from her home state, who chose to go forward with a craven ploy to dispute the results of the presidential election even after the riot sparked by similar lies had ripped through the Capitol.
“[She] knows firsthand the challenges and struggles working people across our country face every day,” said Pressley, a fellow “Squad” member. “She understands the need for bold, systemic policies that match the scale and scope of the crises before us and deliver the long-overdue change our communities need and deserve.”
Bush, along with allies like Pressley, are endeavoring to push Biden considerably to the left during his first 100 days in office. The president’s decades-long resume shows a commitment to a centrist model of politics, and although he has promised to evolve into an FDR-esque version of himself to tackle the ongoing national crises, some on the left have already demonstrated a willingness to exert more pressure if he doesn’t follow through with what they consider to be basic imperatives.
Strategizing around that expectation, Bush said she has already seen some early successes. The day that Biden released his COVID-19 task force in early November, for example, she recalled reviewing the list of names and seeing several qualified doctors, but a total lack of nurses. At the time, she said officials from the Biden transition reached out for her input and she recommended, from the perspective of a registered nurse, that they add some nurses to the roster, explaining that they are the frontline workers typically in the closest contact with patients. Shortly after, the Biden transition team added an initial registered nurse to their unit.
On top of advocating for more coronavirus relief, Bush’s early policy priorities are most closely centered around criminal justice and policing reforms, having endured a trio of police brutality, partner abuse, and sexual assault. “Going through all of what I went through was pretty terrible,” Bush said. “The fact that I was able to come through it and I lived to tell the story and then do something about it, it is an honor.”
“That voice has to be represented. And not just by one person,” she said.
Bush first hit the streets with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 to demand justice after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. Her mission to take that message to the Hill began two years later, first with an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2016, followed by a bid for the House that also came up short during the 2018 midterm elections.
Down two losses and up against a legacy fixture in Missouri politics, Bush’s third attempt at elected office was the most challenging. She launched a bid against Rep. Lacy Clay, who took over the seat from his father, former Rep. Bill Clay. Laboriously rivaling the well-funded younger Clay, she amassed her own substantial fundraising haul from grassroots donors in 2020 and ultimately muscled her way through the party primary to be sworn-in on Jan. 3 the following year as the state’s first Black congresswoman.
“What she represents and why she resonates so well with so many so quickly is that we are all, at some point, trying to figure out how we get active,” said Kara Turrentine, a state director for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) presidential campaign. “At what point can we no longer just be Twitter warriors?”
As the summer of global protests raged among multi-racial coalitions seeking justice and solidarity for George Floyd, another Black man killed at the hands of the police, Bush found herself at the center of an intense inter-party battle over messaging and optics. While Biden and those in the Democratic caucus condemned the murder of Floyd by a white police officer, most did not use the slogan “defund the police,” cautiously avoiding what they considered to be an activist-led phrase with an evolving definition.
The expression became particularly contentious in the aftermath of the elections, when some Democrats blamed the “defund” framework for down-ballot losses in suburban districts. Two prominent Biden allies, former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who is now a senior White House official, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) sought to justify their colleagues’ defeats or near defeats over the use of the term by Republicans, establishing a clear line between their stance and Bush’s.
Bush, on the other hand, embraced the term during her rise to power, offering a more nuanced meaning of what giving fewer resources to police departments could look like in practice. In the most basic interpretation of her view, it’s simply a “mandate” for ensuring that Black and brown people are not senselessly killed. In one notable instance, Bush bucked the party orthodoxy by publicly criticizing former President Barack Obama after he said that using “snappy” slogans like “defund” was a way to lose “a big audience.” She responded by naming individuals killed by excessive police force, including Brown and Breonna Taylor, whose name was emblazoned on the mask she wore at orientation for new members.
“[She] knows what it means to be unhoused, uninsured, to survive domestic violence and police brutality,” said Omar, a second-term congresswoman who is no stranger to inter-party controversy, herself. “She was in the streets fighting for change in Ferguson, and now she is in the halls of power changing the narrative of what is possible.”
Along with Omar, Bush pushed immediately for Trump to be impeached for the second time following the insurrection. Democrats coalesced around that position, ultimately led by three more senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, and made the former president the only one in history to face that distinct fate twice. During the impeachment proceedings, she unabashedly called Trump the “white supremicist in chief,” further drawing boos from Republican members.
Entering politics from a working class background, Bush attributes her early traction to a willingness to be “vulnerable” in difficult conversations. Asked about what most surprised her early on, she mentioned being shocked by how fully was embraced by members of her caucus.
“The way that I perceived it and a lot of others perceived me entering Congress was that people would not like me, I would be on my own,” Bush said. “That has not been the case at all.”
Her colleagues’ desires to collaborate was further borne out on Thursday, when she introduced a new piece of environmental legislation with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) that seeks to reach beyond the traditional thinking around the issue by including a police violence provision.
On a practical level, progressive activists and strategists point to the importance of having someone from the outside now effectively working within the system to translate national concerns. Members are often criticized for being aloof to the needs of those who they are elected to represent. There’s a hope that Bush and this new wave of progressives will be different.
“There’s a level of urgency when you’re living it,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director at the Working Families Party, which supported Bush’s bid. “She ran as an insurgent, she didn’t run getting insider support getting major donor support, so when she goes back to her district or when she’s on the Hill, she’s unencumbered by the interests of those folks that allows her to be able to speak her mind.”