For Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s intention to retire from Democratic leadership might be a case of going from the frying pan into the fire.
Sure, the New York Democrat’s relationship with Pelosi was never a particularly good one, but at least there was a respectful distance between the two. Now that the Democrats are going to be out of the majority in the House, however, her replacement could be one of her bêtes noire in the Democratic Party: fellow New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
On Friday, Jeffries announced his bid for House Democratic leader, according to Fox News.
“Today, I write to humbly ask for your support for the position of House Democratic Leader as we once again prepare to meet the moment,” Jeffries, who has represented a district in New York City since 2013, wrote in a letter to House Democrats.
“Our Caucus must unify with purpose, communicate with discipline, legislate with precision and partner with the Biden administration to vigorously address the continuing challenges impacting our constituents.”
Jeffries has long been assumed to be one of the favorites in the race — and, indeed, no one has yet jumped in to challenge him. AOC likely wishes someone would, considering her history with Jeffries.
Jeffries has long been a target of the far-left Justice Democrats, a progressive group which seeks to challenge Democrat incumbents seen as insufficiently leftist. Ocasio-Cortez is the group’s most visible member — and, indeed, she got where she is by knocking off a sitting member, Rep. Joe Crowley, in a primary.
However, that move was good for Jeffries and the party’s more centrist wing; Jeffries entered the race for House Democratic Caucus chair, a position Crowley held, in 2018, and narrowly defeated leftist darling Rep. Barbara Lee of California.
Not only that, but rumor had it that a donation to Ocasio-Cortez was used in a whisper campaign against Lee, an AOC ally; Politico reported at the time that was a “a charge those allegedly involved have called a complete falsehood.”
However, that was enough for AOC to consider challenging Jeffries during the 2018 halcyon days of the Justice Democrats, when the organization would regularly knock off mere liberals and replace them with young, far-left candidates.
“It’s personal for Ocasio,” one source said. “And she’s going to go all out to take him out.”
Politico reported that “Jeffries has sparked the ire of Justice Democrats for several reasons. The group feels Jeffries takes too much money from corporate interests, a key litmus test, and is overly friendly with banking and pro-charter school interests.”
However, the challenge never really materialized. According to Ballotpedia, Jeffries ran unopposed in the 2020 primary and a 2022 primary challenger — Queen Johnson, described by East New York as a candidate whose “campaign platform mirrors the positions espoused by the Democratic Socialists of America and the national Justice Democrats” — garnered a pathetic 12.5 percent of the vote against Jeffries’ 86.9 percent.
Not only that, but Jeffries used his position as House Democratic Caucus chair to use campaign money to fight Justice Democrat primary challenges to incumbents.
“The effort by Jeffries and two colleagues sets up potential showdowns with a band of younger and more liberal House members, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and arrives amid jockeying to eventually replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if she makes good on her pledge to leave leadership after the upcoming elections,” reported The Washington Post in July 2021.
“Jeffries has formed a new fundraising effort, Team Blue PAC, with Problem Solvers Caucus co-chair Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and New Democrat Coalition co-chair Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.). The group will focus on protecting incumbent members of Congress in safe Democratic seats that are not a focus of the House Democratic campaign committee.”
This, needless to say, had the Justice Democrats riled up. The Democratic Party’s purpose, according to them, was to help elect unelectable leftist candidates who knocked off more moderate incumbents in the primary thanks to Justice Democrats’ money.
“Democratic Party leadership should be focused on keeping the majorities in the House and the Senate, and this looks like an ideological vendetta from Jeffries and Gottheimer,” said Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid said. “The message they are sending is they do not want ‘the squad’ to expand.”
And to think, some people actually believe that’s a bad thing.
For what it’s worth, Jeffries has promised to be extra-special-good to AOC and the rest of the far-left should he get the position:
“I have great respect for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who has launched a bid to succeed Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic leader, discusses how he plans to unify moderate and progressive Democrats. @CNNSotu #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/VGOHORrssk
— CNN (@CNN) November 20, 2022
“I have great respect for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and every single member of the House Democratic Caucus,” Jeffries told CNN on Sunday.
“The majesty of the House Democratic Caucus is that we are so incredibly diverse, in terms of race and gender and religion and sexual orientation, region, life experience, and even ideology from the left to progressives, New Dems, Blue Dogs, moderate and centrist Democrats, all points in between.”
That’s his tune now, of course. If he faces no opposition and gets the leadership slot unopposed, this could end up being AOC’s worst nightmare. One wonders how long it will be before she makes a vague accusation that Jeffries wants to hit on her.
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