Ilhan Omar backs Sanders for president — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib set to follow

Three of the four members of "The Squad," the quartet of progressive freshmen, are lining up behind Sanders

Published October 16, 2019 3:58PM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,  Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Getty Images/Zach Gibson/Scott Eisen/Drew Angerer)
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Getty Images/Zach Gibson/Scott Eisen/Drew Angerer)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a freshman progressive with national name recognition, announced her decision to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is expected to endorse Sanders at his "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens on Saturday. Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most outspoken progressives on Capitol Hill who has a massive national following, volunteered for Sanders' 2016 presidential bid. She was recruited to run for Congress in 2018 by Justice Democrats, a group founded by alumni of the Sanders campaign.

News of the endorsements came after 12 Democratic presidential candidates clashed over key policy issues in the fourth debate of the primary contest Tuesday night and after Sanders suffered a heart attack in Las Vegas earlier this month.

The endorsements are likely to give a much-needed boost to his campaign, which has sunk to a distant third place in a number of recent national and early voting polls. They could also help Sanders attract young voters and quash some concerns about his health and his age as the campaign works to get back on its feet after the senator's recent medical setback. At 78, Sanders is the oldest Democratic presidential candidate. He is followed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who is 76, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is 70.

"Bernie is leading a working class movement to defeat Donald Trump that transcends generation, ethnicity and geography," Omar said in a statement shared to Twitter.

Alongside Sanders, Omar unveiled in June a plan to eliminate all of the country's student debt — worth about $1.6 trillion — and applauded him for working to end foreign wars.

"I believe Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump in 2020," she said.

In his own statement, Sanders called Omar a "leader of strength and courage."

The endorsements from the congresswomen, both members of the group of freshmen Democratic women of color known as the "Squad," were highly coveted. In addition to being among the country's most outspoken progressives, the members of the quartet — Omar, Ocasio Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — have also emerged as some of President Donald Trump's most consistent foils.

The endorsements could be a blow for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who, like Sanders, is white, older in age and running on a platform of progressive policy proposals.

Last month, Warren scored the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a progressive group which identifies as a liberal faction within the Democratic Party and previously endorsed Sanders in 2016.

CNN reported Tuesday night that Tlaib also plans to endorse Sanders, and early Wednesday, Omar tweeted that Tlaib was lining up behind him. It remains unclear if and when Tlaib plans to endorse Sanders — she has not issued a statement or announced that she is backing his bid for the White House.

There was no indication that Pressley planned to make an endorsement — of Sanders or any other candidate. An aide to the congresswoman told the New York Times, "Ayanna has tremendous respect for her sisters-in-service. Ultimately, these political decisions are made as individuals. Ayanna knows that taking back the White House in 2020 is a top priority, and she is working everyday to hold this administration accountable."

In response to the news that Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Omar were set to endorse Sanders, CNN anchor John King wondered after Tuesday night's primary debate whether the move would help the senator or be considered "too urban."

"It's an extension of what we see tonight — a debate of who will lead the party and where the party is going to go," King said. "Which part of the party will lead the party into the 2020 election? They are more of the younger, fresher face. More aggressive and liberal. Less compromising."

The CNN anchor noted that the endorsements could prompt other Democrats, including other presidential hopefuls, to ask: "Is this too far left? Is this too uncompromising? Is it too urban? Is it too internet? Does the Democratic Party need to find a broader audience?"

By Shira Tarlo

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