One day after a firestorm of controversy erupted over a Politico report that Congressmember-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is looking to defeat Democratic colleague U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries in 2020, the soon-to-be lawmaker vehemently denied the explosive article.
“One disappointment about DC is the gossip that masquerades as ‘reporting.’ This story has: – Not a SINGLE named or verifiable source – Only ONE on-the-record comment, which is a denial,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter after the article appeared on Politico’s website and tongues started wagging in the Capitol.
And in case anyone didn’t get her point, Ocasio-Cortez added to her tweet. “My dad had a name for junk articles like this: ‘Birdcage lining,’” she wrote.
A spokesman for Jeffries told this newspaper Wednesday morning that Jeffries would have no comment on reports that Ocasio-Cortez is gunning for him. But the spokesperson also pointed out, in an email, that Ocasio-Cortez had declared the Politico story to be untrue.
Meanwhile, Politico isn’t backing down.
Brad Dayspring, vice president of marketing and communications for Politico, told Fox News that the political news website stands by its reporting.
“It’s hard to know what the criticism of the piece is since the congresswoman-elect doesn’t specify (nor has she or anyone from her staff asked for a correction). We stand by our story,” Dayspring told Fox News.
The controversy erupted on Tuesday, when Politico reported that Ocasio-Cortez, who rocked the political establishment when she toppled longtime U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in June, was setting her sights on Jeffries, another major figure in New York politics.
Politico reported that Ocasio-Cortez and a group of progressives called Justice Democrats are gunning for Jeffries and that the organization, with Ocasio-Cortez’s blessing, had already recruited a candidate, an African-American woman, to run against Jeffries two years from now.
Jeffries, whose congressional district includes Coney Island, Canarsie and East New York in Brooklyn and Howard Beach and South Ozone Park in Queens, was recently elected to the coveted post of chairperson of the House Democratic Caucus, making him the fifth highest ranking member of the House. His name has been mentioned as a future Speaker of the House.
Crowley was the previous chairperson of the caucus.
A primary could lead to open warfare between Ocasio-Cortez and Jeffries, two of the Democratic Party’s rising stars at a time when the Democratic Party would be seeking to unite to try and defeat Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.
Jeffries isn’t progressive enough for some on the far left of the Democratic Party, who told Politico they are upset with the lawmaker’s ties to banking interests and charter school proponents.
In addition, Ocasio-Cortez is said to be fuming over the fact that a contribution she made to U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), the woman who ran against Jeffries for the chairperson’s spot, was the subject of a whispering campaign against Lee, Politico reported.
In a roundtable with reporters in his Brooklyn district office on Monday, Jeffries, 48, said he was looking forward to working with all of the newly elected members of New York City’s congressional delegation. “The Democratic Party is a big tent,” he said.
Jeffries acknowledged that progressives “are the center of gravity” in the current Democratic Party. But he also added that the majority of Democrats who were able to flip Republican House seats from red to blue in the November election “are more centrist, moderate” than many realize.
In defeating Crowley, a man who had been in office for 20 years, in the primary and then winning the general election last month, Ocasio-Cortez put herself on the map. Her every move is scrutinized by the media. And she has 1.6 million Twitter followers.
Starting in January, she will represent the 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of Sunnyside, Astoria, College Point, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in Queens and Morris Park, Parkchester, Pelham Bay and Throgs Neck in the Bronx.
At the age of 29, she will be the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress.
Stephen Witt, founder and editor of Kings County Politics, said Tuesday that knocking off Jeffries would be an uphill battle for Ocasio-Cortez.
“It’s a huge hill to climb. It’s one thing to beat Joe Crowley, who didn’t even campaign to keep his seat. It’s another thing to try and beat Hakeem, who works hard, is well-liked and has deep roots in the community,” Witt told this newspaper.
Another factor in Jeffries’ favor: the configuration of the congressional district. “Three-quarters of that district is in Brooklyn. Only a small part of it is in Queens,” Witt said.
With her upset win over Crowley, “Ocasio-Cortez became a national star,” Witt said. “But I don’t know how that’s going to play in Central Brooklyn.”