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Some Dems float idea of primary challenge for Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has infuriated colleagues by aligning with a progressive outside group that's threatening to primary entrenched Democrats. Now some of those lawmakers are turning the tables on her and are discussing recruiting a primary challenger to run against the social media sensation.
At least one House Democrat has been privately urging members of the New York delegation to recruit a local politician from the Bronx or Queens to challenge Ocasio-Cortez.
"What I have recommended to the New York delegation is that you find her a primary opponent and make her a one-term congressperson," the Democratic lawmaker, who requested anonymity, told The Hill. "You've got numerous council people and state legislators who've been waiting 20 years for that seat. I'm sure they can find numerous people who want that seat in that district."
The New York delegation has eyed Ocasio-Cortez with skepticism ever since last summer when the 29-year-old self-described democratic socialist shocked the political world and defeated then-Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in what many thought would be a sleepy primary race. Crowley, a Queens powerbroker and affable House Democratic Caucus chairman, had been considered a possible future Speaker.
Many New York and Congressional Black Caucus lawmakers were also furious with Ocasio-Cortez after a recent Politico report stated she and the grass-roots group aligned with her, Justice Democrats, were considering backing a primary challenge to fellow New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, a Black Caucus member and establishment insider who succeeded Crowley as caucus chairman.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats have denied the report, but the group of insurgent progressives has vowed to target centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and is eyeing other potential 2020 targets.
For now, New York Democratic lawmakers are playing nice with Ocasio-Cortez and her 2.6 million Twitter followers and say no one in the Empire State's delegation is currently contemplating backing a primary challenger against her.
"We are going to see what happens. Generally for me, I'm giving folks the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence. You might say one thing before you get in here, and then after you get to meet folks, you see what happens and how the body works ... things are different, so we'll see what happens," Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), whose district includes part of Queens, said in an interview.
"I can only tell you that the times I've spoken to her, and at the times she's been at the New York delegation meetings, she's been cooperative and wants to be a team player. That's what she said, so you gotta take her at her word until something changes," Meeks added.
Jeffries, the No. 4 House Democrat who some say could someday become Speaker, insisted none of his House colleagues have approached him to run a primary challenger against Ocasio-Cortez. In fact, the 48-year-old Jeffries said, delegation members this month lobbied Democratic leadership to grant Ocasio-Cortez's request that she be appointed to the House Financial Services and the Oversight and Reform committees.
"I don't think that is something the New York delegation would contemplate. As you can see, we are totally united behind each other. ... The New York delegation sticks together," Jeffries told The Hill. He said Ocasio-Cortez denied the news report that she was backing a challenger to him, "so there was nothing to work through. I haven't seen a primary candidate emerge, so I assume when she denied it, she was correct that there was nothing to it."
No potential challengers to Ocasio-Cortez have yet emerged. But one New York political insider noted that the Queens and Bronx district is home to many ambitious pols who are close to Crowley and don't like that a political outsider took his seat.
"She's pissing off a lot of people and has probably made a lot of enemies. ... A lot of people who are furious with her are Joe's allies, including some named Crowley," said the insider, referring to Crowley's cousin, Elizabeth Crowley, a former New York City councilwoman. "She is a woman. She's been moving more to the left. She would be someone interesting."
Elizabeth Crowley, 41, did not return a request for comment, but she has previously said she's eyeing a bid for Queens borough president in 2021. She lives in a neighboring Queens district.
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez doesn't seem particularly worried about a primary challenge. With her newfound fame, she will be a force of nature and fundraising powerhouse in the 2020 cycle; as a political newcomer in 2018, she raised an astounding $2 million last cycle and had more than $400,000 cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports.
Of all people, Ocasio-Cortez would not complain if she gets a primary challenger, her spokesman said.
"We believe in primaries as an idea. We're not upset by the idea of being primaried. We are not going to go out there being anti-primary - they are good for party," said Corbin Trent, a campaign spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez and a co-founder of Justice Democrats.
"If voters in the district feel that they can be better represented, that will be their choice on primary day," he continued. "In the meantime, we're going to be doing our dead-level best to make sure we are representing the needs and the will of our constituents."
Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid predicted a lopsided defeat for whoever tries to take on Ocasio-Cortez.
"Considering she's more popular and well-known than some of the Democratic presidential contenders, I think whoever challenges her will lose by huge margins," Shahid said. "It's a quick way for some D.C. and Wall Street consultants to make some easy money."
But it's not just Black Caucus members she has rubbed the wrong way. Ocasio-Cortez, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico, has also annoyed members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus by targeting one of their own: Cuellar. Earlier this month, she appeared in a Justice Democrats promotional video with her spokesman, Corbin, and her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, touting a program recruiting progressive insurgents to run for Congress.
Justice Democrats is currently searching for a progressive to launch a primary challenge against Cuellar. Hispanic Caucus members aren't happy about those efforts but say they are taking a wait-and-see approach before intervening with Ocasio-Cortez, who joined the caucus this month.
"We're going to protect our members and we're going to protect our own. Full stop," said centrist Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a former whip for the Hispanic Caucus. "There are plenty of [swing] races and seats that we can play in, and we want to devote our resources to that."