Rep. Rashida Tlaib to respond to Biden's State of the Union: Five things to know about her

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U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, has been tapped by the progressive Working Families Party to give a response Tuesday night to President Joe Biden's first State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress.

It's not at all unusual that the independent party, which has endorsed progressive icons including independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the past, would recruit Tlaib for the response, given that she's been a liberal firebrand since the day she joined the U.S. House in 2019.

In fact, that same night she somewhat famously made an off-color remark about how, with Democrats in charge, then-President Donald Trump would be impeached (which he was, twice, though the Senate didn't convict either time). She also quickly became a charter member of the so-called "Squad" of progressive allies in the House, a group that initially also included Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Tlaib is unlikely to criticize Biden in her response, which will be broadcast on the Working Families Party's Facebook page about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. She declined to endorse Biden even after he became the Democratic nominee, preferring Sanders, but she's been on mostly friendly terms with the White House since Biden took office. What she is likely to do, however, is say that Biden and other Democrats should use every tool at their disposal to overcome opposition to social reforms to address climate change, environmental justice, working wages, affordable housing and much more by Republicans and some centrist Democratic senators.

With Tlaib back in the spotlight, it's worth reiterating some of the points that have made her tenure in Congress notable — and have sometimes led to sharp criticism — as well as where she's headed in the future.

Tlaib made history with her first election to Congress

Filling the first full term in what is currently Michigan's 13th Congressional District anchored in Detroit, Tlaib not only replaced the late and legendary Rep. John Conyers, she also made history from the beginning, becoming one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress (with Omar) and the first Palestinian-American woman elected to the U.S. House. In fact, she wore a traditional thobe, or dress, made by her mother to her first swearing-in.

Tlaib is a lawyer and a longtime progressive activist

A social rights lawyer and former state representative, Tlaib, who grew up in a working class household of 14 siblings in southeastern Michigan, is well known for her passion for causes. A self-proclaimed "girl with a bullhorn," she once stopped traffic over plans by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit for a new span and has fought emissions at Marathon Oil's refinery. In 2016, she was escorted out of then-candidate Donald Trump’s speech at the Detroit Economic Club after shouting at him that the nation’s children “deserve better” and that, given his remarks about Muslims and about immigrants, he should read the Constitution.

She's been a lightning rod for controversy

While in Detroit and western Wayne County, Tlaib's been known for battling for social causes and fighting against high insurance prices and the use of facial recognition software, nationally she has courted controversy. Her comments about Israel's treatment of people in the Palestinian territories, where her grandmother still lives, have led then-President Trump and other critics to call her antisemitic. And while she rejects that label, she has at times made comments that had been widely criticized, including by some in her own party, and voted against a resolution in support of a two-state solution between Israel and the territories. She has also pushed Biden to use American influence to stop human rights abuses against Palestinians by Israelis.

She sticks to her positions

While most Democrats backed a bipartisan, $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill worth billions to Michigan, Tlaib was one of a handful — and the only Democrat from the state — to vote against it. Why? In part because she and the others felt that allowing a vote on that legislation would make it more difficult to ensure passage of a set of more sweeping social reforms that included free prekindergarten, funding for affordable housing, and many other items. Ultimately that agenda did pass the House, only to get stalled in the Senate — which is likely the main topic of Tlaib's response on Tuesday night. And even though Tlaib's vote against the infrastructure bill could hurt her politically, she defended it as the right thing to do, given that she believed some funding could help companies that contribute to pollution in her district.

Tlaib is headed into her third election to Congress in a (partially) new district

With a new independent redistricting commission drawing new congressional boundaries, Tlaib is running in what will be know as the Michigan 12th District, which combines Detroit's west side with Southfield, Dearborn, Livonia and parts of western Wayne County. Tlaib doesn't currently live in the district — she's in what will be the new 13th, which includes the rest of Detroit, and says she will move — but her decision makes sense given that her political base is in much of the new 12th. Plus. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, is moving to a new district based in Ann Arbor and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, is not running for another term. Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, among others, are attempting to beat Tlaib in the predominately Democratic district, but given Tlaib's name recognition, fundraising ability and tireless campaigning style, they have their work cut out for them.

Contact Todd Spangler at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Rashida Tlaib to respond to Biden's SOTU: 5 things to know