'This is not a dictatorship': Democratic congressman accuses Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of trying to 'anoint' his successor because she backed his primary opponent

Associated PressFILE – 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)
  • Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, lashed out at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over her recent endorsement of his progressive primary opponent, Jamaal Bowman.
  • Engel, whose primary has become increasingly competitive in recent weeks, called Ocasio-Cortez’s public support for his opponent undemocratic.
  • “We shouldn’t have one person, from high, even though she’s a colleague of mine, think that she can anoint whoever is elected to Congress,” Engel said.
  • Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives have long argued that robust primaries strengthen democracy and have endorsed candidates running progressive primary bids.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, on Sunday lashed out at his House colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over her recent endorsement of his progressive primary opponent, Jamaal Bowman.

Engel, who has represented his Bronx district since 1989 and is facing his toughest primary race in two decades, called Ocasio-Cortez’s public support for his opponent undemocratic. Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives have long argued that robust primaries strengthen democracy.

“This is not a dictatorship. This is a democracy,” Engel said during a candidate forum on Sunday. “We shouldn’t have one person, from high, even though she’s a colleague of mine, think that she can anoint whoever is elected to Congress.”

While Democratic leadership has long urged its caucus to support all incumbents, even in safe blue districts like Engel’s, Ocasio-Cortez won her seat by primarying a powerful Democrat and has endorsed an array of progressive challengers over the last two years, many of them young people of colour without traditional political backgrounds.

Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Bowman last week along with a slate of other New York candidates. Bowman, a Black former Bronx middle school principal, is running on a similar platform to Ocasio-Cortez’s – he supports key progressive legislative priorities, including a Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

Bowman’s race is in some ways strikingly similar to Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 primary against then-Rep. Joe Crowley. Both progressive challengers took on veteran white congressmen with more moderate politics in districts that are majority Black and brown with large immigrant communities.

In January, the congresswoman established a political action committee, the Courage to Change PAC, which she’s using to support progressive congressional candidates. The group’s mission statement says it “seeks to reward challengers and incumbents who display political courage – people who refuse to bow to establishment pressure, who advocate ferociously for working-class families, and who have lived the same struggles as the people they seek to represent.”

Engel’s opposition has consolidated this week ahead of the state’s June 23 elections as Bowman has won a few key endorsements, including from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. And on Monday, another of Engel’s primary challengers, Adam Ghebreghiorgis, dropped out of the race and endorsed Bowman.

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