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US elections 2020: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar win re-election

Tlaib says Covid-19 relief will be her top priority during second term in Congress and vows to continue pushing for Palestinian human rights
The Republican opponents of Tlaib and Omar had raised staggering amounts of money despite the non-competitive nature of races (AFP/File photo)

Muslim-American Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have won re-election to the US House of Representatives, with both lawmakers projected to secure an overwhelming majority of the votes in their respective districts in Michigan and Minnesota.

After being elected as the first Muslim women to Congress in 2018, both lawmakers comfortably fended off primary challenges in August to secure a second term for their Democratic seats. 

Tlaib and Omar have faced incessant attacks from President Donald Trump as well as criticism from officials in their own party over their outspoken stances against the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians.

Still, their comfortable re-election demonstrates their appeal to their constituents. In 2018, Tlaib and Omar won their primaries in a large pool of primary candidates. This year, they replicated that success when going against a sole challenger.

'Money burning'

The race on Tuesday was a formality for both congresswomen who represent heavily Democratic areas. But Republican donors, fuelled by the national attention on the progressive lawmakers, had thrown money on the campaigns of the Muslim-American lawmakers' general election rivals.

Omar's opponent Lacy Johnson raised $10m while Tlaib's rival David Dudenhoefer raised $1m, staggering amounts of money for non-competitive House races.

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"You know how I like to think of it - it's racist money burning," Tlaib told Detroit weekly Metro Times earlier this month.

Congratulatory messages for both congresswomen poured in online late on Tuesday.

"Rashida Tlaib shows us every day what is possible when we refuse to give up. Mazel tov on your win, Rep. Rashida Tlaib," JVP Action, a political advocacy group affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, said in a tweet.

Justice Democrats, a group that backs progressive candidates, congratulated Omar on her victory, calling her a "beacon of hope to millions of Americans".

IfNotNow, a youth-led progressive Jewish group, sent a message of support to the congresswomen as well.

"We had your back during your first term, and we look forward to continuing to support you in your fight for Palestinian freedom and against antisemitism," the group said in a tweet addressing Tlaib. 

"You always show up for the freedom and humanity of every single person."

IfNotNow also pledged to continue to support Omar. "We are proud to have endorsed you for your reelection and are excited to support you in your fight for freedom and dignity, those here and those abroad."

In an email to supporters late on Tuesday, Omar said the victory was an "affirmation" of her agenda of centring marginalised people in politics.

"The real America First Agenda is one that puts all people first," she said, hitting out at Trump's "America first" motto.

"We are building a movement that sees my oppression as inherently tied to your oppression, and sees a world where all workers can be uplifted. Together."

Tlaib to push for Palestinian rights

In an interview with Middle East Eye last week, Tlaib said Covid-19 relief will be her top priority for her second term in the House.

"We have to understand the impact and the harm that the pandemic has had on communities like mine, so I want to hit the ground running on a Covid relief package that gives people recurring payments," Tlaib, whose Detroit-based district is one of the poorest in the country, said.

She also vowed to press for a $1.5bn fund to ensure water as a human right to all Americans.

The congresswoman also pledged to continue advocating for Palestinian human rights despite pushback from some members of her own party.

"You can come after me for continuing to call out the establishment, to call out the hypocrisy when we say we're for the people, and we're not," she said.

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"And that includes when you tell me that we're for peace, that we're for justice, but then we look away when Palestinians are oppressed by the same kind of racism that many of our communities of colour have experienced here in the history of the United States to continue to do so now."

On Tuesday, several progressives secured seats in the House of Representatives, including Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman who ousted veteran centrist Democrats in their primary races earlier this year.

Tlaib said she is thrilled to work with her new colleagues.

"What's exciting is the lived experiences that many of my new colleagues are bringing with them from growing up in communities that were challenged by these broken systems," she said. 

"They can speak first-hand about why we need to fix our education system, why single mothers need more support, why police brutality needs to end, why our LGBTQ community needs to be uplifted in movement work and so much more."

Asked about how she deals with the constant media attention, online hate and attacks by fellow politicians, Tlaib said: "There are days when it is very painful to deal with some of the attacks, but I realise I must be doing something right because I hear more from those that are inspired by it than those that are hateful."