Crowley stunner sets off new scramble among House Dems

Crowley stunner sets off new scramble among House Dems
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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 PelosiPelosi uses Trump to her advantage Fake Pelosi video sparks fears for campaigns Trump goes scorched earth against impeachment talk MORE (Calif.), Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality Steyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess MORE  (Md.) and Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnDems want climate change, tax hikes in infrastructure deal New Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall Democrats hurting themselves with handling of Ilhan Omar controversy 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.

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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 KrishnamoorthiHouse Intelligence enjoys breakthrough with Justice Department Lawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote Lawmakers say improving transparency in higher education offers chance for bipartisanship MORE (D-Ill.), 44, told The Hill. “Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Pelosi, Clinton among attendees at memorial reception for Ellen Tauscher Dems walk Trump trade tightrope 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 SwalwellHouse Intelligence enjoys breakthrough with Justice Department Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers MORE (Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee; and Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosHit singer Andy Grammer says 'unity' more important than any political party The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes DCCC chair Bustos pulls out of fundraiser for anti-abortion rights Democrat MORE (Ill.), Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment MORE (N.Y.) and David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillinePelosi uses Trump to her advantage Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Facebook says it will not remove doctored Pelosi video MORE (R.I.), who jointly lead the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the caucus’s messaging arm.

Two Pelosi critics, Reps. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonRepublicans attempt to amend retirement savings bill to include anti-BDS language CNN's O'Rourke town hall finishes behind Fox News, MSNBC Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment MORE (Mass.) and Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanCNN's O'Rourke town hall finishes behind Fox News, MSNBC GOP faces new challenge in 2020 abortion fight 2020 Democratic presidential candidates rally in support of abortion rights 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 PocanTrump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks Democrats seize on IRS memo in Trump tax battle The Memo: Trump allies see impeachment push backfiring on Democrats MORE (Wis.) and Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval House Democrat: Seattle airport's ban on ICE detainee flights helps 'hold a lawless administration accountable' MORE (Wash.), Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote House progressive: Pelosi 'has it right' on impeachment House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment MORE (Md.) and Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyOvernight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children Transgender troops rally as Pentagon prepares to implement ban The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump rallies for second term on 'promises kept' MORE III, (Mass.) as well Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaPelosi uses Trump to her advantage Progressive Democrat says Trump victory shed light on divide between Silicon Valley, rural US Democratic rep says targeted sanctions on Huawei are 'reasonable' 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 GallegoTrump officials say US efforts to deter Iran have worked Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress 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 SandersJames Carville: Biden represents 'stability' not 'generational change' Ocasio-Cortez, progressives trash 'antisemitic' Politico illustration of Bernie Sanders 2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding 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. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes The lonely world of Justin Amash Israel needs bipartisan support MORE (D-N.Y.) retired in 2017, while Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenPhoto showing 3-year-old girl high-five new Harriet Tubman mural goes viral The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change MORE won a Senate seat representing Maryland.

Crowley’s predecessor as caucus chairman, former Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Trump administration moves forward with final rule to allow new California drilling Overnight Energy: Interior chief says climate response falls on Congress | Bernhardt insists officials will complete offshore drilling plans | Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama landfill pollution rules 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 John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE won.

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

— Sylvan Lane contributed