What a Difference a Cycle Makes: Pelosi Statement on Jamaal Bowman Compared to AOC Tells a Tale of Two Years

Pelosi’s words are carefully chosen and watched closely by her Democratic colleagues in the House as a gauge of the direction of the party’s politics.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 16, 2020. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

The day after New York Rep. Joe Crowley lost his primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, issued her statement on the affair, solemnly titled, “Pelosi Statement on Chairman Joe Crowley.”

Crowley was not the chair of a major committee, but held the title of chair of the House Democratic Caucus, an honorific she used in her farewell note. The statement itself would not generate significant news but would send a signal to other House Democrats about how she was thinking about his loss. It included only a passing reference to the future congresswoman in the final line.

Her full statement:

Chairman Joe Crowley has been an unwavering champion for America’s working families for almost two decades.  To know Congressman Crowley is to know his fierce pride in representing Queens and the Bronx, and the joy and effectiveness he brought to serve as their voice in the Congress.

As Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Joe Crowley brought principled, unifying and forward-looking leadership to the historic challenges of the Trump Administration.  Our Caucus has been strengthened by his chairmanship, and by Chairman Crowley’s relentless determination to defend the inclusive America symbolized by the Statue of Liberty.

I salute Chairman Crowley for a formidable legacy of achievement for the people of New York.  I congratulate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her victory.

What a difference a cycle makes. This time around, the group Justice Democrats, which had backed Ocasio-Cortez, put its energy behind Jamaal Bowman, taking on Rep. Eliot Engel in a neighboring district to Ocasio-Cortez’s. Engel had been in Congress a decade longer than Crowley and was a real chair, sitting atop the House Foreign Affairs Committee. On Friday, after mail-in bailouts had been counted, Bowman was officially declared the winner of the primary. Pelosi’s reaction was markedly different.

The first subtle change is in the headline. Where the previous statement centered Crowley, the new one moves into neutral: “Pelosi Statement on the NY-16 Primary Election.”

Pelosi’s words are carefully chosen and watched closely by her Democratic colleagues in the House as a gauge of the direction of the party’s politics. When she slighted the so-called Squad last year as just “four people,” she effectively signaled how seriously she took their challenge. The warm note sent Saturday morning to Bowman — who has promised to “cause trouble for the status quo in Washington” — sends an entirely different signal.

Like with Crowley, her statement on the latest race fairly begins with kind words toward her vanquished colleague:

Chairman Eliot Engel has been a powerful force for good in America in his three decades of service in the Congress. His leadership has strengthened our Caucus, Congress and country at the helm of the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he has been masterful in his work keeping the American people safe at home while protecting our interests and advancing our values abroad. And serving as a Senior Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he has strengthened millions of families’ health, financial security and well-being.

But from there, however, she pivots to Bowman.

Jamaal Bowman has run an electrifying campaign that has stirred the Bronx and Westchester communities with his message of hope, justice and progress. As an educator and progressive advocate, he has been a voice for the voiceless who brings great urgency to the fight to lift up working families.

She concludes with a similar refrain to her Crowley statement, but adds a welcoming note that was not offered to Ocasio-Cortez.

I salute Chairman Engel for his distinguished service, which has made a difference for America. I congratulate Jamaal Bowman on his victory and look forward to welcoming him to Congress.

That doesn’t mean that Bowman and the Squad will be welcomed with open arms next term. A “congressional source” went to the New York Post with an entirely different tone, using Bowman’s win as another opportunity to take a swipe at Ocasio-Cortez. “People keep writing positive articles about her because it gets clicks. But what’s the reality? What has she delivered? So much has been written about the Green New Deal… did it ever become law?” he said. “She is good at tweeting, not legislating.” 

The source went on to dunk on Ocasio-Cortez for losses in primaries by Morgan Harper and Jessica Cisneros, candidates she endorsed for Congress in Ohio and Texas, respectively, though Ocasio-Cortez hadn’t actually endorsed Harper. “Her candidates have gotten crushed from Ohio to Texas. Bowman and Jones are excellent candidates who would have won without her endorsement,” the source claimed. Jones refers to Mondaire Jones, who primaried Rep. Nita Lowey, who retired rather than run for reelection. Jones then won the open primary.

Whoever the Post’s quoted source is, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.,  who took over Crowley’s role a chair of the caucus, has sounded a similar note before. After Harper’s loss to Rep. Joyce Beatty, Jeffries took to Twitter:

Cori Bush faces Rep. Lacy Clay in Missouri in a rematch of her 2018 race on August 4.

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