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-CortezOvernight Energy: Court upholds Trump repeal of Obama fracking rule | Oil price drop threatens fracking boom | EPA eases rules on gasoline sales amid coronavirus Ocasio-Cortez blasts coronavirus stimulus package as 'shameful' on House floor Oil price drop threatens US fracking boom 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 ClayDems unlikely to subpoena Bolton Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny 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 JeffriesPelosi says House will review Senate coronavirus stimulus package Pelosi says House will draft its own coronavirus funding bill Senate closes in on trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus bill MORE (D-N.Y.), a CBC member seen as the heir apparent to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Attacking the Affordable Care Act in the time of COVID-19 DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill 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 ClarkeOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Dems 'frustrated' by coronavirus response after briefing | Mulvaney claims press covering outbreak to take Trump down | Pence bolsters task force House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Lawmakers grill Ticketmaster, StubHub execs over online ticketing MORE (D-N.Y.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyDemocrats highlight lack of diversity at major banks in new report Both sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night MORE (D-Ohio), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownDemocrat refuses to yield House floor, underscoring tensions on coronavirus vote Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings endorses Biden ahead of Florida primary Buttigieg, Klobuchar face uphill battle in pivot to diverse states 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 MeeksBiden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Democrats balk at Trump's payroll tax cut proposal The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Facebook — Washington, Wall Street on edge about 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 ObamaCivil rights leader Joseph Lowery dies at 98 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Obama thanks Fauci, Stephen Curry during Instagram Live session MORE first ran for Congress in a primary challenge to Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushBobby Rush wins Illinois House primary Illinois governor endorses Biden one day before primary Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins MORE, a CBC member,” Rojas added. “This is a democracy and voters deserve choices.”

Justice Democrats also pointed out that they endorsed Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Pressley, Tlaib introduce bill providing .5B in emergency grants for the homeless 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 EngelHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Lawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus 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 MurphyPelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive 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 KellyIllinois governor endorses Biden one day before primary Durbin endorses Biden: He 'can start to heal the wounds of this divided nation' Biden seeks to capitalize on Super Tuesday surprise 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 TrumpWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Coronavirus hits defense contractor jobs Wake up America, your country doesn't value your life MORE’s surprise 2016 victory by progressive media personalities Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski, along with Bernie SandersBernie SandersWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Poll: Trump, Biden in dead heat in 2020 matchup Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on 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 approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain 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.