Who is "the Squad"? What you need to know about Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib

By Jason Silverstein

/ CBS News

Rep. Tlaib calls Trump tweets a "distraction"

They broke barriers on the way into Congress. They've been in Washington for less than a year. And they've already attracted more celebrity, controversy and conflict than many lawmakers see in a lifetime.

They are known as "the Squad" — four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color who have become the new face of the Democratic Party, whether you like it or not. All four were elected to the House last year and became part of the most diverse Congress in U.S. history.

Since then, the Squad members have won legions of liberal fans with their fiery tweets, their support for ambitious progressive proposals like the Green New Deal, and their calls to impeach President Trump. All of this, of course, has also earned them plenty of critics and made them prominent political bogeymen for Republicans. (They've even received death threats.)

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Their activist agenda is sometimes at odds with the leaders of their own party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got into a spat with Squad members about that culminated in Pelosi saying in a closed-door caucus meeting that Democrats should stop tweeting their grievances about fellow party members.

But those disputes pale in comparison to the battle that erupted when President Trump took aim at the Squad in a series of racist tweets. Trump tweeted that "'Progressive' Democratic congresswomen" should "go back" to where they came from, even though three of the Squad members were born in the U.S. and the fourth has been a citizen for two decades. Mr. Trump never named any of the congresswomen in his tweets, but made clear in later statement who he had in mind. The Squad members, in turn, hosted a press conference together to push back against the president.

Left to right: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY); Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA); Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN); and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 15, 2019, after President Trump stepped up his attacks on the four progressive Democratic congresswomen. Getty Images

A week rarely goes by without one of the Squad members making headlines — and getting into a political battle. Here's what you need to know about these four freshmen lawmakers.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – New York

Ocasio-Cortez represents a district covering parts of the Bronx and Queens. She set off the progressive wave in Congress last summer with her stunning primary upset over one of the most powerful Democrats in the House. A former bartender and waitress, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent. When she won the general election in November at just 29 years old, she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Ocasio-Cortez — who is now widely known as "AOC" — has led the charge on some of the most prominent, and most disputed, proposals from the Democrat-controlled House. She co-sponsored the Green New Deal, a legislative package that calls for a massive overhaul of the U.S. economy to combat climate change, and she has supported Medicare for All, free public college and a 70% marginal tax rate for Americans making more than $10 million. She is a leading critic of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and called for the entire agency to be abolished.

Ocasio-Cortez has also become a social media icon and often uses Twitter to promote her policies, fight with her critics and cheer her fellow Squad members. She is by far the most popular House member on Twitter, with nearly 4.8 million followers.

Ilhan Omar – Minnesota

Omar, 37, represents a district including Minneapolis and its suburbs. She is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and previously served in the Minnesota House.

Omar was born in Somalia. Her family fled the country to escape civil war and lived for years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She came to the U.S. when she was 10, and became a citizen at 17, in 2000. Omar's election also made her the first Somali-American in Congress, and the first naturalized citizen from Africa. Her victory spurred the House to end its 181-year ban on headwear, and Omar became the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor.

She has been an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy and American support for Israel, leading to accusations of anti-Semitism, which she has denied. Omar also attracted widespread criticism for a speech she gave at a Council on American-Islamic Relations meeting, in which she said the Muslim civil rights group "was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something." The backlash over her comment was so severe that Pelosi asked Capitol Police to give Omar extra security.

President Trump has been particularly vicious in his criticism of Omar, falsely claiming that she "hates Jews" and supports al-Qaeda. On the latter accusation, Omar said she would "not dignify it with an answer," and that Muslims should not constantly be asked to condemn terrorists.

Ayanna Pressley – Massachusetts

Pressley, 45, represents a district including parts of Boston, Cambridge and surrounding towns. She is the first black woman from Massachusetts to serve in Congress, and was previously the first black woman elected to Boston's City Council. She has more years of elected political experience than any other member of the Squad.

Like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley defeated a 10-term incumbent, Michael Capuano, in a surprise primary victory.

Pressley has spoken about surviving a sexual assault when she was a student at Boston University. She has been an advocate for sexual assault survivors in Congress, arguing for better protections for victims, and she is also a staunch supporter of abortion rights. Pressley's first amendment introduced on the House floor called for lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, but it did not pass.

Rashida Tlaib – Michigan

Along with Omar, Tlaib is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress. She is also the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress. Tlaib, 42, represents a district including parts of Detroit and its suburbs, and she previously served in the Michigan House.

Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez are both members of the Democratic Socialists of America, and the first two women of the organization in Congress.

"I think it is a new time," Tlaib told "CBS This Morning" in November 2018, days before being elected. "It's a new era of the Civil Rights movement. And it's time for a change."

Although all of the Squad members have said President Trump should be impeached, Tlaib's call for impeachment attracted the most attention — because of one particular swear word. Soon after being sworn in, Tlaib told a crowd of supporters, "We're going to impeach the motherf****er." She refused to apologize for the remark, writing on Twitter, "I will always speak truth to power."

First published on July 16, 2019 / 7:40 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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