CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries

Congressional Black Caucus members are furious at Justice Democrats, accusing the outside progressive group aligned with firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTrump says he will designate antifa a terrorist organization Ocasio-Cortez rips de Blasio after police cruiser drives into crowd of protesters NYPD police cruisers lurch through group of demonstrators protesting Floyd's death MORE (D-N.Y.) of trying to oust lawmakers of color, specifically African American lawmakers. 

Justice Democrats is backing primary challengers to eight-term Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a Hispanic Caucus member, and 10-term Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence visits Orlando as all 50 states reopen The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin, Powell: Economy may need more boost; Trump defends malaria drug Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice MORE (D-Mo.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The insurgent group also made noise this year about challenging Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesGun control group rolls out House endorsements Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' Tara Reade's attorney asks Biden to authorize search of his Senate papers MORE (D-N.Y.), a CBC member seen as the heir apparent to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (D-Calif.).

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And CBC leaders are fretting that Justice Democrats may target other black lawmakers in the coming weeks and months, including Reps. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeDemocrats introduce coronavirus-focused privacy legislation NY Democrats call for mortgage forgiveness in next coronavirus relief bill Hispanic Caucus pushes McConnell on 'Dreamer' bill MORE (D-N.Y.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US States respond with force amid another night of protests Three government officials in Ohio maced during demonstrations protesting George Floyd's death  MORE (D-Ohio), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownDemocrats lobby Biden on VP choice Democrats try to force McConnell's hand on coronavirus aid Aides expect Schumer, Mnuchin to reach deal on coronavirus relief MORE (D-Md.). Brown said the group has been making calls in his district, actively trying to recruit a challenger to run against him — something that Justice Democrats denies.

“It just seems strange that the social Democrats seem to be targeting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, individuals who have stood and fought to make sure that African Americans are included and part of this process,” Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksA prescriptive path forward for saving struggling countries' economies Minority caucuses endorse Texas Afro-Latina for Congress NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus MORE (D-N.Y.), a senior CBC member, told The Hill.

“I don’t know what that agenda is, but if they want to come after members of the Black Caucus, it’s two ways,” warned Meeks, the Queens Democratic Party boss who clashed with Justice Democrats in a local district attorney race last month.

Some Democrats are hoping that Ocasio-Cortez, the rabble-rousing freshman with 4.7 million Twitter followers, gets a primary challenge herself in 2020

Justice Democrats stormed onto the scene last year when one of their little-known handpicked candidates, Ocasio-Cortez, who is Hispanic, unseated then-Rep. Joseph Crowley, the powerful Democratic caucus chairman, in a New York primary.

In a statement, Justice Democrats’ executive director, Alexandra Rojas, defended the group’s strategy, noting that it has endorsed several candidates of color.

One of them is Cori Bush, a registered nurse and Black Lives Matter activist who is taking on Clay for the second time.

“We are supporting a black woman who is a community organizer who has taken on police brutality in the St. Louis area,” Rojas said. “Seventy percent of congressional districts in America have no competitive general election; primaries are often the only places where voters can have a real say. 

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Obama officials owe the nation an apology for major abuse of power The battle of two Cubas MORE first ran for Congress in a primary challenge to Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushHouse coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs Jimmy Kimmel mocks Pence delivery of PPE Delta, American Airlines to mandate face coverings during US flights MORE, a CBC member,” Rojas added. “This is a democracy and voters deserve choices.”

Justice Democrats also pointed out that they endorsed Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHouse Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 MORE, an African American woman, in her successful primary challenge last year against Democratic Rep. Mike Capuano in a Massachusetts district where minorities make up the majority. 

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This cycle, Justice Democrats is also supporting Bronx educator Jamaal Bowman, who is black, as he takes on House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse, Senate panels to question ousted State Dept. inspector general on Wednesday: report Overnight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in Democrats broaden probe into firing of State Department watchdog MORE (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, and Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old Hispanic woman who is running against her former boss, Cuellar.

The CBC’s allegations are “absurd and more about protecting incumbency over democracy,” a Justice Democrats source said.

In the last cycle, Justice Democrats backed American Civil Liberties Union activist Chardo Richardson over Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Congress must fill the leadership void Overnight Health Care: Pence press secretary tests positive for coronavirus | Watchdog recommends ousted vaccine expert be temporarily reinstated | Health care industry loses 1.4 million jobs MORE (D-Fla.), who made history as the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress. The group in 2018 also endorsed Bush, who eventually lost to Clay by nearly 20 points in the primary. This week, the group said they will back Bush once again as she gives it another shot in Missouri.

In an interview in the Capitol, Clay said it was absolutely clear that Justice Democrats are targeting lawmakers of color like himself. He and his father, Bill Clay, have represented the district for the past 50 years, and Lacy Clay called the group’s actions “insulting” to the intelligence of Missouri voters.

“They are going after the wrong target. Instead of fighting Republicans and defeating Trump and holding on to our majority, they find it convenient to go after their own, which is to me a bunch of B.S.,” Clay told The Hill. 

He likened Justice Democrats to “Russian trolls of 2016” trying to sow divisions in the Democratic Party.

“It does make you wonder what’s going on,” added another CBC member, Rep. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyDemocrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 Harris pushes for task force addressing racial disparities in coronavirus pandemic Collecting and reporting ethnicity stats on COVID-19 matters for the health of everyone MORE (D-Ill.). “Some names that have been mentioned all seem to be people of color, and more so CBC members.”

CBC members and some top Democratic aides have questioned who is pulling the strings at Justice Democrats. The group, which is targeting entrenched incumbent Democrats they view as insufficiently progressive and beholden to corporate donors, was founded in the wake of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE’s surprise 2016 victory by progressive media personalities Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski, along with Bernie SandersBernie SandersJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Biden's 'allies' gearing up to sink his campaign Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support MORE organizers Saikat Chakrabarti and Corbin Trent. 

Uygur and Kulinski are no longer with the group. And after winning a seat in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez hired Chakrabarti as her chief of staff and Trent as her communications director.

Justice Democrats’ spat with the Black Caucus comes amid high racial tensions in the 235-member House Democratic Caucus. Ocasio-Cortez accused Pelosi of singling out “newly elected women of color” when the Speaker scolded lawmakers in a private meeting Wednesday for tweeting at each other.

Pelosi clarified Thursday that her comments were aimed at Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, who had earlier tweeted that the moderate New Democrats and Blue Dog Coalition should be renamed “The New Southern Democrats.”

“They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did [during] the 40s,” Chakrabarti wrote, later deleting the tweet.

A senior House Democratic aide called it “ironic and funny” that Ocasio-Cortez is accusing Pelosi of attacking women of color, when Justice Democrats is targeting minority lawmakers.  

“She’s only a woman of color when it’s convenient. None of the things she’s fought for aligned with communities of color and her group is funded only by elitist white liberals; she’s a puppet,” the top Democratic aide told The Hill in a phone call. 

The aide then texted an image of a Goomba puppet from the Super Mario Bros. video game.

“I can’t tell you how pissed off people are” about the Justice Democrats, the aide added. “All these CBC members feel like they are under siege. But it’s offensive that these elitist white liberals feel like they can undermine the foundation of our party,” African American voters.

Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s now-spokesman, declined to comment for this story. 

Top CBC member Meeks now is calling for a meeting between CBC leaders and Justice Democrats to find out why they are targeting lawmakers of color. 

“We will have to, at some point, sit down and see: Is this something that is directed at members of the Congressional Black Caucus?” Meeks asked. “We’re going to sit down with whoever the social Dems are. We have to find out who they are. Who is really running this show. We have to figure that out.”

Rep. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinHouse Democrats seek to codify environmental inequality mapping tool  House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Oil prices jump amid partial reopenings | Bill aims to block fossil fuel firms from coronavirus aid | Tribes to receive some coronavirus aid after court battle MORE (D-Va.), a CBC member, said it was upsetting that Justice Democrats appeared to be taking aim at so many black lawmakers, especially since they have some of the most progressive voting records in the caucus.

“I think challenging other Democrats in the primary when we’re trying to hold on to the majority is wrong unless the person is so far out of bounds, so far away from Democratic orthodoxy, but that’s not what’s going on here,” McEachin told The Hill. 

“It’s disturbing to see challenges to that many CBC members.”

This story was updated at 10:23 a.m.