The ongoing feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and other so-called “progressive” freshman Democratic Representatives continues to heat up.
The left-wing activist group that spearheaded the political rise of AOC is now working to take down several incumbent Democrats who have defied the party’s freshman progressive wing, leaving some of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s loyalists on Capitol Hill anxiously wondering if they might soon fall in the crosshairs themselves.
Justice Democrats, which was co-founded by Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti, has already announced it is looking to unseat seven-term pro-life Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who represents a conservative district and has boasted about his endorsement from the National Rifle Association. Also on the list is New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman who’s currently in his 16th term.
Primary Challenges Ahead for Engel and Cuellar
Cuellar and Engel each have primary challengers, and according to Fox News, all indications are that the campaigns will be contentious. While Ocasio-Cortez has stopped short of issuing endorsements in the races, Chakrabarti tweeted a link to a website accepting donations for Cuellar’s challenger in June, adding caustically, “Cuellar votes with Trump more than some Republicans … [and] votes most with big oil, private prison corps, and the gun lobby.”
From Pelosi’s leadership position to the rank-and-file, many House Democrats don’t see much daylight between themselves and Justice Democrats’ two current targets — and that has them worried.
“Members are looking over their shoulders,” Kentucky Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, who chairs the House Budget Committee, told Politico this week.
Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, who serves as finance co-chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, added, “It’s not just older white men, but everybody including younger incumbent women is looking over their left shoulder.”
Engel, who is Jewish, was among the House Democrats who criticized freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar after controversial remarks suggesting Israel supporters were loyal to a foreign country. Engel said back in March, “it’s unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens.”
Internal Conflict on Vote on Border Funding
Both Engel and Cuellar also joined virtually all of their colleagues last month in supporting House Democratic leaders’ failed $4.5 billion proposal to fund border facilities, which was opposed by only four Democratic members of Congress, all in their first terms, Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.
In a testy interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Tlaib stood by her “no” vote, saying the system was “broken” and claiming that during a visit to a border detention facility, “three agents took me aside, away from my colleagues and said, more money is not going to fix this, that they were not trained to separate children, that they don’t want to separate two-year-olds away from their mothers.”
That kind of zeal in the face of mainstream and establishment scrutiny has become the hallmark of the new left-wing freshman class in the House, and has also led to a very public spat between Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi, that began when Pelosi told the New York Times last week that “all these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” referring to the House Democrats who voted against the border aid bill.
Despite the activism of organizations such as Justice Democrats, most political pundits believe that it is premature to gauge whether the enthusiasm progressives say they’re observing will translate to serious primary candidacies.
Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of primary challengers to an incumbent fail due to funding, organizational and name-recognition shortcomings.
Looking to thwart progressives and other challengers, DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., wrote private consultants earlier this year that her committee won’t conduct business with firms that work with primary challengers to sitting Democrats. She said the DCCC’s “core mission” includes protecting incumbents.