Ocasio-Cortez backs challenger of House Democratic chairman

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

FILE – In this March 8, 2020, file photo Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., speaks at a campaign rally for then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed the Democratic primary challenger of a veteran House committee chairman and fellow New Yorker in her latest challenge to party leaders.

Ocasio-Cortez, who in less than two years has shot from obscurity to one of Congress’ most recognized names and faces, announced late Wednesday that she was backing 44-year-old local educator Jamaal Bowman over Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Engel, a 73-year-old liberal, is in his 16th House term and represents a district from parts of the Bronx and Westchester, next door to Ocasio-Cortez’s home base of the Bronx and Queens.

Ocasio-Cortez’s support for Bowman puts her in direct opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who as a party leader backs incumbents when they face primary foes.

“He does a great job for New York and I wish him well on his election, as I wish her well on her election,” Pelosi said Thursday, asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s opposition to Engel.

“This moment requires renewed and revitalized leadership across the country AND at the ballot box,” Ocasio-Cortez, 30, tweeted as she lent her support to Bowman.

Her announcement came during the second week of nationwide protests against the killing of black men by police officers and after President Donald Trump’s display of physical force and taunts against the demonstrators, some of whom have been violent.

She called Bowman, who is African American, “a profound community leader.” The solidly Democratic district represented by Engel, who is white, has mostly black and Hispanic voters.

When she first entered Congress last year, Ocasio-Cortez and three other young first-term women — calling themselves “The Squad” — clashed repeatedly with Pelosi, though in recent months those battles have receded.

Engel has reported raising more than $1.6 million through March, about triple Bowman’s haul. Engel has been accused of spending insufficient time in his district, and Bowman’s challenge is considered legitimate.

Bowman claimed a fundraising bonanza this week after Engel was overheard at a news conference seeking time to address the crowd. He told the event organizer that he “wouldn’t care” about speaking if he didn’t face a primary.

Engel campaign spokesman Tom Watson said the lawmaker lauded “the combined skills, ethics and experience” of colleagues he said have endorsed him, including Pelosi, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Watson explained Engel’s news conference remark with a prepared statement saying that “running for re-election, I thought it was important for people to know where I stand.”

Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed two other challengers to conservative House Democrats for this year’s elections. Marie Newman defeated Rep. Daniel Lipinski in an Illinois district south of Chicago, but Jessica Cisneros lost to Rep. Henry Cuellar in south Texas.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.

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