SPONSORED:

Crowley stunner sets off new scramble among House Dems

Crowley stunner sets off new scramble among House Dems
© Greg Nash - Getty Images

Rep. Joseph Crowley’s stunning defeat in his primary has created an unexpected opening for a younger, more progressive candidate to challenge the old bulls of House Democratic leadership — Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats House Republican: 'Absolutely bogus' for GOP to downplay Jan. 6 MORE (Calif.), Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerWhat's a party caucus chair worth? House fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE  (Md.) and Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block GOP divided over expected Cheney ouster Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' MORE (S.C.) — who are all in their late 70s.

Crowley, the New York Democrat who holds the No. 4 leadership spot, was seen as the next possible Democratic Speaker. But his loss to 28-year-old progressive upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday night shook Washington and shined the spotlight back on rank-and-file Democrats’ desire to see a generational change at the top.

ADVERTISEMENT

By Wednesday, the dust had not settled, and it was still unclear what exactly Crowley’s defeat would mean for the broader 193-member caucus. But in the hours after Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory, hundreds of conversations had taken place over text message, email and phone, with lawmakers floating more than a dozen names of colleagues who could run for leadership.

“It’s wide open,” freshman Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiMedical supplies arriving in India amid surge in COVID-19 infections Overnight Health Care: US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries | Biden speaks with Prime Minister Modi as COVID-19 surges in India US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries MORE (D-Ill.), 44, told The Hill. “Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyLiberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges NY Democratic chair blasts primary challenge against Maloney Carolyn Maloney will face Justice Democrats-backed primary challenger MORE was seen as a friend of many different [constituencies] and advocacy caucuses and now there is a lot of room to fill and a lot of people are thinking about it.”

Some younger members being floated for a top leadership spot include members of Pelosi’s own leadership team: House Democrats’ campaign chief, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.); caucus Vice Chairwoman Linda Sánchez (Calif.), who previously led the Hispanic Caucus; Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellThe Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez Lawmakers roll out legislation to defend pipelines against cyber threats McCarthy open to meeting officer injured on Jan. 6 after Swalwell claims he was 'hung up on' MORE (Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee; and Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDemocrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Democrat Cheri Bustos to retire from Congress GOP campaign chief confident his party will win back House MORE (Ill.), Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesJeffries endorses Wiley in New York mayor's race Pelosi: Greene's 'verbal assault' of Ocasio-Cortez could be a matter for Ethics Committee Top Democrat: 'House Republicans have definitively become a full-blown cult' MORE (N.Y.) and David CicillineDavid CicillineRomney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' Democrat moves to censure three Republicans for downplaying Jan. 6 Democrats reintroduce legislation to ban 'ghost guns' MORE (R.I.), who jointly lead the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the caucus’s messaging arm.

Two Pelosi critics, Reps. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOvernight Defense: Iran talks set up balancing act for Biden | Pentagon on alert amid Russian saber rattling | Lawmakers urge Pentagon to be pickier about commanders' requests for more troops Is it okay to waste infrastructure dollars? Lawmakers want Pentagon, DOJ to punish current, former military members who participated in riot MORE (Mass.) and Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanFudge violated the Hatch Act, watchdog finds Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Tim Ryan touts labor support in Senate bid MORE (Ohio), are other names being tossed around. Pelosi beat back an insurgent challenge from Ryan in 2016.

And members of the Progressive Caucus who’ve been encouraged to run include co-Chairman Mark PocanMark William PocanProgressives divided over efforts to repeal SALT cap Left feels empowered after Biden backtracks on refugees NIH reverses Trump administration's ban on fetal tissue research MORE (Wis.) and Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden spending plans hit speed bumps Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE (Wash.), Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinWatchdog finds Architect of the Capitol was sidelined from security planning ahead of Jan. 6 Six House Democrats ask Garland to review case of lawyer placed under house arrest over Chevron suit Democrats seek to keep spotlight on Capitol siege MORE (Md.) and Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyWarren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE III, (Mass.) as well Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSenate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech GOP downplays Jan. 6 violence: Like a 'normal tourist visit' House conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill MORE (Calif.), who endorsed both Crowley and Ocasio-Cortez in the New York race.

Khanna, a former Obama administration official who represents a San Francisco Bay–area district near Pelosi’s, is being urged to run by progressive voices like “The Young Turks” founder Cenk Uygur. While Khanna, 41, declined to comment about a possible bid, he said the message from Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is clear: Democratic leaders going forward must embrace a more progressive agenda.

“It’s a clarion call for bold, progressive leadership and having an agenda of ‘Medicare for all,’ free public college, against police brutality, having a clear vision and conviction-based politics,” Khanna told The Hill. “Grass-roots organizing and inspiring people is far more important than just fundraising. The energy of this party is with organizing, with momentum, with social media. The tools of winning elections have changed, and conviction-driven politics can inspire.”

Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoHispanic Democrats slam four Republicans over Jan. 6 vote in new ads Democrats want Arizona to reject mapping firm's application to redraw districts GOP lawmaker barricaded himself in bathroom with sword during Capitol riot MORE (D-Ariz.), 38, said Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph over Crowley represented a demographic and generational change happening in the Democratic Party.

“I think you are seeing a lot more progressive, younger people coming out and voting in primaries because they are feeling the brunt of the Trump administration’s actions, especially people of color,” Gallego said. “I think you saw that [Tuesday] — a young, Latina progressive was basically able to [drive] out the people in the district, which is young, Latino and progressive.

“I think that’s where the Democratic Party is.”

However, Democratic leaders downplayed the implications of Ocasio-Cortez’s victory for the party’s leadership and positions nationally, even as they congratulated her on her win.

Hoyer, who serves as minority whip, told reporters in his office Wednesday that Ocasio-Cortez’s viral TV ad was extremely powerful, but added: “I don’t want to get into leadership questions.”

And Pelosi, the San Francisco liberal who made history as the first female Speaker of the House, pushed back on a question about whether her leadership team should better reflect her party: more female, progressive and young. 

“I’m female. I’m progressive. What’s your problem? Two out of three ain’t bad,” quipped Pelosi, a grandmother of nine. “They made a choice in one district. So let’s not get yourself carried away as an expert on demographics and the rest of that within the caucus or outside the caucus.”

A senior Democratic aide added that “Pelosi has made clear that she’s staying put.”

Yet the victory of Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents and a former organizer for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMusk's SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Bezos' Blue Origin New York, New Jersey, California face long odds in scrapping SALT  Warren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, could complicate the path for Pelosi to return to the Speakership, and for Hoyer and Clyburn to ever move up the ladder.

“It’s definitely time for younger people to rise up,” said one House Democrat reacting to the Crowley political earthquake.

Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday declined to back Pelosi for Speaker should Democrats regain control of the House in November.

“I think it’s far too early to make those kinds of commitments right now,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN’s “Newsroom,” saying Democrats “need to just focus on winning in November first and then we’ll have the conversation about our leadership.”

Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus who was first elected to his Queens seat two decades ago, was seen as the last survivor of a new generation of House lawmakers who could not climb higher because of the entrenched leadership of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn.

Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) left the House in 2010 to become President Obama’s chief of staff, then successfully ran for Chicago mayor. And two others who held the DCCC post moved on as well: Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelOpposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House races clock to beat GOP attacks Overnight Defense: Biden's stalled Pentagon nominee gets major support | Blinken presses China on North Korea ahead of meeting | Army will not return medals to soldier Trump pardoned MORE (D-N.Y.) retired in 2017, while Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenTensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted Van Hollen says members should stand with Cheney on election claims MORE won a Senate seat representing Maryland.

Crowley’s predecessor as caucus chairman, former Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraMcDonald's teams up with HHS on pro-vaccination campaign Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections MORE, left the House last year to become California’s attorney general.

Bustos, a moderate Democrat who represents northwest Illinois, urged reporters not to read too much into the New York race, describing it as “unique.” But she confirmed that colleagues have reached out to her Wednesday about a possible leadership bid.

“I had some people who have contacted me. I tell them this is about 12 hours old right now and we’ll talk,” said Bustos, 56, a former journalist from the Quad Cities area. “People are just seeing our fourth-highest-ranking person in leadership lose his primary and that leads to a lot of questions about what comes next.”

“I’ve said that I’m very, very proud of our caucus because we value diversity in every way. One area where we haven’t valued it to the level I’d like to see is geographic diversity,” Bustos added. “I sit around the leadership table now and am the only Midwesterner. I’m the only person who sits around that table who comes from a district that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE won.

“And I think that’s very, very important to understand those kinds of districts.”

— Sylvan Lane contributed