The Squad Enables Pelosi's Massive Capitol Police Spending Bill While Cynically Feigning Opposition

Three Squad members -- all of whom recently chanted "Defund the Police" -- had the power to kill a $1.9 billion increase in Capitol Police and security spending. Instead, they ensured its passage.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a town hall hosted by the NAACP on September 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Also pictured is Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

By a margin of one vote, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that allocates $1.9 billion to intensify security and increase policing at the U.S. Capitol. Among other things, the bill would boost armed security for members of Congress, fortify security protections at the Capitol, provide funds in “reimbursement” to the National Guard, and increase funding for the Capitol Police. A small portion of it would provide counseling services to Capitol Police officers dealing with trauma.

The 213-212 vote was a party line vote with six exceptions. All Republicans voted against it. All Democrats voted for the bill except for six. Three members of the left-wing faction of the House known as the “Squad” joined their GOP colleagues to vote against the bill: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). But the other three members of the Squad — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — voted neither “yes” nor “no” but rather “present.” All six had previously told activist groups that they opposed the bill.

Had any of these three Squad members voted “no” instead of “present,” then the bill would have been defeated. In other words, this faction of the Squad had the power fully in their hands to block passage of a bill that would increase police funding and enhance the power of the security state to prevent the public from entering the U.S. Capitol: a bill they claimed to oppose. But they chose not to use that power and instead allowed this pro-police, pro-security-state bill to pass the House. It now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to bring it to a floor vote, though it remains uncertain if they will be able to find ten Republican Senators needed for it to pass the Senate and be sent to the White House for signing.

There are several amazing aspects to this episode. To begin with, all three Squad members who abstained today on this bill — which effectively ensured its passage — have spent the last year chanting and tweeting that the police should be defunded. Just last month, Rep. Tlaib demanded that the police be defunded and disbanded:

Rep. Bowman in December issued a similar proclamation. “Defund the police,” the Congressman decreed:

In the summer of 2020, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez left no doubt about what she favors when she invokes this mantra: “Defunding police means defunding police," she said. The Congresswoman was criticizing cuts to New York City’s police budget as insufficient and the byproduct of accounting tricks rather than real defunding efforts.

And yet, what do we have today? When it comes to their own security, these three Squad members are evidently eager for close to $2 billion to be spent in additional funds to increase the police presence around them and fortify the armed guards and other security state mechanisms that protect them. This is always a key point of “Defund the Police” campaigns.

Those who will actually suffer are not the rich (who will simply hire more private security) or the powerful (who will use government budgets to ensure their own physical safety using armed guards), but the burden will fall instead on poor and working-class citizens who are left unprotected. That is why only a small percentage of citizens in all racial groups support reducing police presence in their neighborhoods. A Gallup poll last August found that eighty-one percent (81%) of black Americans and eight-three percent (83%) of Hispanic Americans want either the police presence to remain the same (a majority) or to be increased. Presumably they want that for the same reason these Squad members just enabled this bill to pass today: they perceive it in the interests of their own safety.

But the political point here is even more amazing. These three Squad members know that — after everything they claimed to stand for — it would be the height of hypocrisy for them to vote in favor of increasing police funding and fortifying the U.S. security state. So they postured as principled opponents by having the exact number of Squad members vote “no” who could do so without having the Pelosi-favored bill fail, while ensuring that the other three voted “present” to ensure the bill’s passage. It is hard to express the level of cynicism and contempt for their supporters necessary to perpetrate such a blatant fraud.

Rep. Omar, to her credit, has taken the lead in denouncing efforts to initiate a new War on Terror or new security measures in the name of fears over the January 6 Capitol riot and the ongoing threat some believe it poses. And her vote today — joining with the entire House GOP caucus to vote “no” on this bill — was at least consistent with her prior statements. It is unclear whether this scam pulled by at least half of the Squad was something they all planned together — to cast the appearance of powerful resistance to police funding and the security state while doing exactly what they needed to ensure its passage — but at least Rep. Omar’s vote was aligned with her claimed beliefs.

But the votes of AOC, Bowman and Tlaib could not have been more divergent from what they claim to support. Just months after they all explicitly demanded that the police be defunded for everyone else, they acted to knowingly enable a bill that would massively increase police funding for their own benefit. And they did not even have the courage to be honest enough to vote “yes,” instead hiding behind a “present” vote that they knew would have the same effect as a “yes” vote. That maneuver enabled them to then issue mealy-mouthed statements, such as the one posted by Rep. Bowman, claiming that they oppose increased police spending but favor some of the bill’s funding provisions to help Capitol officers with enduring “trauma” from that day, implying that this is what motivated their “present” vote.

Today thus provided one of the most vivid expressions yet of what Shant Mesrobian described in December as the real crux of the Squad’s politics: “performative radicalism” which “masks a lackluster record when it comes to actually challenging party leadership.” As he put it:

Another, related factor is the immense influence of social media. On Twitter especially, the medium beloved by the activist and media class, identity politics, call-out culture, and competitive victimization are the lingua franca with which personal brands and political cults are built. Social media now offers elected officials a path to fame and pop culture status that circumvents much of the old, hand-dirtying business of politics. For many, it seems, elected office itself has become merely a stepping stone to social media celebrity. Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Squad members have built massive platforms and followings that offer them influence, attention, and career prospects that were previously unheard of for junior members of Congress. If the priority of maintaining a social media influencer empire rivals, or even surpasses, the priority of being a successful legislator—and it’s not hard to see how it could be more immediately rewarding—politics itself can be subsumed by the warped incentives of the online attention economy. Indeed, the political figure whose style shares most in common with the Squad members is President Trump—both generate far more attention, publicity, and controversy for what they tweet than for what they actually do in office.

This may explain why the Squad members’ signature personas, both online and off, are not those of powerful public servants deserving of scrutiny and accountability, but instead those of social media victim-celebrities who deserve fierce loyalty from an adoring fan base. It may also explain why their social media postings tend to sound like irony-laced admonishments of officeholders from petitioning activists rather than statements from actual members of Congress. 

Those who maligned that description as overblown or unfair suffered a big blow today. Chanting “Defund the Police” in viral tweets with raised-fist emojis but then doing exactly what is necessary to ensure passage of Nancy Pelosi’s huge police and security spending bill increase is “performative radicalism” in its purest and most fraudulent expression.

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