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-CortezHillary Clinton responds to backlash: 'I will do whatever I can to support our nominee' Klobuchar dismisses White House lawyer's jab about Democrats wanting to be in Iowa The Hill's 12:30 Report: Rules fight sets stage for first day of Trump trial 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 ClayLawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny Maloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman 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 JeffriesSenate rejects subpoenaing Mulvaney to testify in impeachment trial Jeffries: Even Nixon didn't block White House aides from testifying White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team MORE (D-N.Y.), a CBC member seen as the heir apparent to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now 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 ClarkeSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Hillicon Valley: FBI to now notify state officials of cyber breaches | Pelosi rips 'shameful' Facebook | 5G group beefs up lobby team | Spotify unveils playlists for pets Jewish advocates pressure social media platforms, Congress to regulate online anti-Semitic speech MORE (D-N.Y.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyBoth sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night Progressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements MORE (D-Ohio), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownOvernight Defense: Dems raise pressure on Esper to block border wall funds | Trump impeachment trial begins in Senate | Day one dominated by fight over rules House Dems express 'deepening concern' over plans to take .2B from Pentagon for border wall Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa 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 MeeksOcasio-Cortez defends decision not to pay dues to House Democratic campaign arm Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash House Democrats urge financial regulators to defend against Iranian cyberattacks 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 ObamaObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina National Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo MORE first ran for Congress in a primary challenge to Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushBiden endorsed by four more members of Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid Lawmaker calls for hearing into MLB cheating scandal MORE, a CBC member,” Rojas added. “This is a democracy and voters deserve choices.”

Justice Democrats also pointed out that they endorsed Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyMassachusetts governor apologizes after calling Pressley speech a 'rant' Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders 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 Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request House panel reinvites Pompeo to deliver Iran testimony 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 MurphyRep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Bloomberg's congressional endorsers grow to three 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 KellyHillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes Dems call out Oracle for lack of diversity on its board Overnight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul 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 TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE’s surprise 2016 victory by progressive media personalities Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski, along with Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump on Clinton's Sanders comments: 'She's the one that people don't like' 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 McEachinVirginia governor seeking to remove Robert E. Lee statue from US Capitol Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 Virginia lawmakers ask governor to remove state's Robert E. Lee statue from US Capitol 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.