Tlaib and Pressley Put Racism on Trial During Cohen Hearing

Anticipation grew as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib waited their turn to question President Trump’s former attorney at his hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform yesterday — and they did not disappoint.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earned praise for shrewdly using her time to lay the groundwork for further investigation into Trump’s financials, including his elusive tax returns. Picking up on fellow Democrats’ previous lines of questioning, she queried Cohen about Trump’s efforts to deliberately misrepresent his assets. Most valuably, she grounded her questions with follow-ups establishing routes for obtaining more information from other members of Trump’s inner circle and key documents, circumventing Republicans’ efforts to discredit Cohen’s testimony.

While Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats like Representatives Speier and Rouda used their five minutes to drill down on specific issues, Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib joined other Democrats in using their platform to hit back against Republicans’ efforts to sink the proceedings. Pressley brought up the shuttered Trump Foundation’s abuse of state and federal laws to turn the charity into a “personal piggybank,” referencing the New York Attorney General’s ongoing lawsuit. Tlaib used the majority of her time to underline the criminality of the Trump administration, seeking to elicit agreement from Cohen.

Both women used the remainder of their time to challenge Rep. Mark Meadows, who attempted to refute Cohen’s statement that Trump was a racist by pointing to the presence of Lynne Patton, who is Black, in Trump’s administration. Patton currently serves in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and has a longstanding association with the Trump Organization.

Listing a number of Trump’s racist statements, Pressley asked Cohen if having a Black friend dispelled the evidence that Trump was a racist. Tlaib spoke more forcefully, stating that, “just because someone has a person of color, a Black person working for them, does not mean they aren’t racist and it is insensitive that some would even say – the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a Black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.”

Her comments rippled uncomfortably throughout the chamber, with immediate protestation from Meadows, who responded with an indignation that evoked Brett Kavanaugh’s performative outrage and became a prime example of white fragility.

Meadows emotionally defended himself against Tlaib’s charge in part by pointing to people of color in his own family as well as his friendship with Chairman Elijah Cummings. He began asking Cummings to strike Tlaib’s comments from the record, most likely referring to House rules that prevent members from impugning each other — similar to the Senate rule that Sen. Mitch McConnell used to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren, spawning the “Nevertheless, she persisted” meme.

Cummings asked Tlaib to clarify her comments, and she repeated her statement, omitting the lines “in this chamber, in this committee.” While stating she didn’t direct her comments toward Meadows, Tlaib refused to back down and brought the charges of racism simmering throughout the day to the forefront of the discussion.

After raising eyebrows on her first day in Congress with her comment to “impeach the mother fucker,” Tlaib may have once again skirted the line on House decorum.

However, these arcane rules are rarely applied and instead levied by Republicans against Democrats, particularly when it comes to women of color making their mark on the new Congress.

Reps. Pressley and Tlaib played an invaluable role in yesterday’s hearing, dispelling myths about racism that are tangled in the web of Republican fictions grounding their support for Trump. Tlaib also managed a rare feat, situating the hearing in the larger culture wars being waged over the U.S.’s racial history, and making an already historic day larger than Cohen or Trump.