Two of Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez’s top staffers are leaving her office.
Saikat Chakrabarti, her chief of staff, and Corbin Trent, her director of communications — who, through their work with Justice Democrats, have been alongside Ocasio-Cortez since her primary run — will leave the lawmaker’s office. Chakrabarti will go to New Consensus, a nonprofit focused on climate issues and promoting the Green New Deal. Trent will direct communications on Ocasio-Cortez’s 2020 campaign, the same role he played during her first congressional run.
“Saikat has decided to leave the office of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez to work with New Consensus to further develop plans for a Green New Deal,” Trent said in a statement to The Intercept. “We are extraordinarily grateful for his service to advance a bold agenda and improve the lives of the people in NY-14. From his co-founding of Justice Democrats to his work on the Ocasio-Cortez campaign and in the official office, Saikat’s goal has always been to do whatever he can to help the larger progressive movement, and we look forward to continuing working with him to do just that.”
Chakrabarti wants to prioritize working on advancing the Green New Deal, something he can focus on more at New Consensus than he can while managing Ocasio-Cortez’s office and deflecting attacks from House leadership. He also has a new baby and will have more time to devote to parenting.
Ocasio-Cortez asked Trent to move to the campaign, she told The Intercept. Trent is “shifting to our campaign side so we can work on some ambitious comms projects we’ve been looking forward to working on,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a text message. Ocasio-Cortez is facing one Republican opponent, Scherie Murray, a businesswoman from New York who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica as a child.
Chakrabarti’s last day is Friday, August 2, and Trent’s transition timeline is still unclear, Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept. Trent told The Intercept he expects to continue serving as spokesperson through the end of August. Trent, who has been directing communications for the Ocasio-Cortez campaign part time since 2018, will now do so full time. Ariel Eckblad, Ocasio-Cortez’s legislative director, will take over as chief of staff.
The news comes just as a drawn-out fight between House Democratic leadership and the progressive wing of the party — which at times put Ocasio-Cortez’s staffers in its crosshairs — seemed to be smoothing over. Progressives in the House have tangled with leadership over a series of policy fights including emergency funding at the border and how to hash out the approach to Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. They’ve also clashed over the growing number of candidates challenging Democratic incumbents, as Ocasio-Cortez did last year — moves that have been met with backlash from the House’s campaign arm.
The fight bled into a broader discourse over when and how it’s most appropriate to air disputes between colleagues, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disparaging members of the progressive “Squad” in a July interview with the New York Times. Pelosi took a swipe at Ocasio-Cortez, along with Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, who broke with Democrats and voted against a border funding bill in late June, calling them “four people” with a “public whatever and their Twitter world” who don’t have “any following.”
In a closed-door meeting a few days after the Times interview, Pelosi told colleagues “do not tweet” about other members, a warning viewed as being directed at the Squad and Ocasio-Cortez’s staff. Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post she thought Pelosi’s comments were “outright disrespectful” and singled out the four women of color in a way that was unfair.
According to Ocasio-Cortez’s office, the departures are not a result of the dust-up with leadership, and were decided well before the public feuds took place. The idea from the start was to have Ocasio-Cortez’s office continue to build out a movement beyond the walls of Congress, a member of her staff told The Intercept. They had never really planned to build a career on the Hill and always had their sights on returning to on-the-ground activism after they got things rolling. With the momentum building around her signature proposal for a Green New Deal, and Congress entering recess, the staffer said, it made sense to formalize the transitions, which had been in the works for some time, now.
The departures are not a result of the dust-up with leadership, and were decided well before the public feuds took place.
“With the Ocasio2020 campaign beginning to ramp up, I’ve asked Corbin to transition to the campaign full-time and he has agreed to do so,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept. “I’m looking forward to growing the movement with him in Queens and the Bronx and across the country.
Saikat has decided to leave the office to work with New Consensus to further develop plans for a Green New Deal. I am extraordinarily grateful for his service to advance a bold agenda and improve the lives of the people in NY-14. From his co-founding of Justice Democrats to his work on the campaign and in the official office, Saikat’s goal has always been to do whatever he can to help the larger progressive movement, and I look forward to continuing working with him to do just that.”
Chakrabarti, who helped to manage Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 campaign, has been a target of Ocasio-Cortez’s critics on Capitol Hill.
The tensions bubbled up earlier this summer, when Chakrabarti compared moderate Democrats who sabotaged a version of the border bill package supported by the Squad to “new Southern Democrats,” in a June tweet that has since been deleted.
Everything I tweeted 2 weeks ago was to call out the terrible border funding bill that 90+ Dems opposed. It gave Trump a blank check to continue caging people in horrendous conditions. Our Democracy is literally falling apart. I'm not interested in substance-less Twitter spats.
— Saikat Chakrabarti (@saikatc) July 13, 2019
In mid-July, House Democrats, using their official Twitter account, which is run by the office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., singled out Chakrabarti for an attack, referencing tweets he made during that June dispute.
The tweet, which was sent on a Friday night, has since been deleted. At the time, Chakrabarti said his comments were taken out of context, and emphasized that the focus shouldn’t be on intra-Democratic fighting: “Our Democracy is literally falling apart. I’m not interested in substance-less Twitter spats,” he added.
Trent has kept a relatively low profile while serving in his current role. He said he sees other opportunities to make an impact outside of Congress.
“There’s as much ground to be gained working as an activist as there is as a staffer,” Trent told The Intercept about his transition to Ocasio-Cortez’s 2020 campaign. “Activism and legislating with a third of government are not the same thing.”
Update, August 2, 2019, 5:39 p.m. ET
This piece has been updated to include a screenshot of the House Democrats tweet, as well as added details about the transitions in Ocasio-Cortez’s office.