‘She’s satin and steel’: Pelosi wages war on Trump

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi’s letter to President Donald Trump suggesting he reschedule his State of the Union address until the government shutdown ends was a stunning rebuke for the president. | M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico

Congress

Her move to derail Trump’s State of the Union address underscores her aggressive challenge to the president.

Donald Trump may have finally met his match in Nancy Pelosi.

As the partial government shutdown grinds on with no end in sight, the struggle between the president and the speaker is becoming an unprecedented political fight — with the fallout likely to extend far beyond this episode.

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Pelosi privately refers to Trump as the “Whiner in chief.” She’s questioned his manhood. She calls out Trump’s lies to his face and openly wonders whether he’s fit for the job. She mocks Trump for his privileged upbringing and his lack of empathy for the less fortunate. She jokes with other senior Democrats that if the American public saw how Trump acts in private, they’d “want to make a citizen’s arrest.”

And by proposing Trump reschedule the annual State of the Union address until the government shutdown is over, as she did Wednesday, Pelosi has pulled her most aggressive gambit yet.

After more than two years of Trump’s whipsaw presidency, Pelosi is saying what perhaps every Democrat feels should be said to Trump: No, no and no.

While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked many Trump initiatives during the last Congress, Pelosi is the first leader able and willing to really challenge Trump since he took office. And with control of the House and public polls firmly on her side in the shutdown fight, Pelosi is empowered to act. Unlike the Republicans on Capitol Hill, Trump can’t really hurt her, back home or on Capitol Hill.

Pelosi’s letter Wednesday to Trump suggesting he reschedule his address until the government shutdown ends was a stunning rebuke for the president. Pelosi even told Trump he could simply send a letter to Congress instead, like presidents did in the 1800s.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi wrote, with mild-mannered language that belied the explosive maneuver.

It was a daring move, one that appeared to catch the White House off guard. While it could backfire on Pelosi by making some Republican Trump skeptics more sympathetic to the president, it also showed exactly how Pelosi operates. She’s tough and wily, with a ruthless streak that Democrats who have crossed her readily acknowledge. She’s not afraid of Trump, and she’s capable of surprising moves that keep opponents off balance.

“She’s satin and steel. He’s just untethered,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a longtime Pelosi friend and political ally.

“She’s just a badass,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “There is some truth when she says, ‘I’m a grandmother, I know a temper tantrum when I see it.’”

Pelosi is planning to make Trump’s life difficult on a host of other fronts as well, targeting everything from his business dealings to his personal life to Russia. Every issue the president has tried to avoid the last two years — while shielded by the GOP-controlled Congress — is fair game for Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, and they’re happily trampling through those fields right now.

The House Oversight Committee has called Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, to testify on Feb. 7, a month before Cohen heads to prison. Cohen is expected to dish on payments made to women Trump allegedly had affairs with to buy their silence during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Feb. 8 appearance for Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, where he will be grilled over how he’s handled special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin.

And on Wednesday, the General Services Administration’s inspector general said in a report that the agency “improperly ignored” concerns that Trump’s lease on the Old Post Office — where the Trump International Hotel is — may violate the Constitution. The IG’s findings are a gift to Democrats, who already planned to investigate the lease.

“Anybody’s relationship with Trump is difficult, but not because they want it to be,” said Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “Listening to her, I believe that [Pelosi] has truly approached this with integrity and straightforwardness. And she’s just not sure who she’s dealing with. You never know with Trump, from one hour to the next.”

As the shock from Pelosi’s State of the Union announcement was still reverberating throughout the Capitol, House Republicans railed against the California Democrat. But being in the House minority means they’re powerless to stop her.

“What the speaker is doing is making it all political. I think what the American public wants us to do is actually find common ground, to find compromise,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.

Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) complained Pelosi “was part of the ‘Resist’ movement that didn’t want to acknowledge that [Trump] got elected. And they got the majority on an agenda of blocking anything the president wanted to do.”

Trump, for the most part, has refrained from publicly attacking Pelosi; Schumer, aka “Cryin’ Chuck,” has been a more frequent target of his Twitter barbs.

But Pelosi is starting to get under the president’s skin. In recent days, Trump has started mentioning Pelosi more often on Twitter.

“Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?” Trump asked his followers on Tuesday.

Pelosi hit right back at him, tweeting: “.@realDonaldTrump, stop holding the paychecks of 800,000 Americans hostage. There is no reason for them to be suffering right now. Re-open the government! #TrumpShutdown.”

Schumer didn’t want to comment on Pelosi or Trump when asked about their relationship Wednesday. But he did make clear — once again — that Democrats won’t negotiate any border security funding until federal agencies are back in operation.

“Democrats House and Senate are united,” Schumer told reporters. “We have three words for President Trump, Mitch McConnell, Leader McCarthy: Open the government. We are all united and we’re finding Republicans are beginning to join us.”

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), himself an occasional Pelosi sparring partner over the years, said Trump is woefully misjudging the longtime Democratic leader if he thinks she can be bullied or pushed around.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Hoyer said. “She doesn’t back down to anybody.”

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James Harden Erupts for 2nd Straight 50-Point Game in Losing Effort vs. Nets

Another night, another big performance out of Houston Rockets star James Harden.

Two days after he dropped 57 on the Memphis Grizzlies, the reigning NBA MVP went off for 58 points in a 145-142 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.

Harden shot 16-of-34 from the field, 5-of-19 from three-point range and 21-of-23 from the free-throw line in the loss.

According to ESPN’s SportsCenter, Harden became the first player to drop back-to-back 50-spots since he did so during his MVP campaign in December 2017:

Harden went for 51 in back-to-back games at the Staples Center last season against the Los Angeles Lakers (Dec. 20) and the Los Angeles Clippers (Dec. 22).

Before Wednesday’s game, NBA on ESPN noted that Harden needed 34 points against the Nets to average at least 40 points per game over his last 20 appearances. After his latest 50-burger, he is now averaging 41.2 points since Dec. 8 and has topped 50 three times during that span.

After Wednesday, Harden has scored 30-plus points in 18 consecutive games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he is now tied with Elgin Baylor for the fifth-longest streak of 30-point games in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain owns the top four spots, with his 65-game streak in 1961-62 by far the longest ever.

Harden also had 10 rebounds and six assists in the losing effort.

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Roswell, New Mexico Becomes TV’s Most Timely Show Amid Government Shutdown

As we hit day 25 of the longest federal government shutdown in history, Roswell, New Mexico offers a look at the tensions that brought us to this point. The CW’s remake of the beloved 1999 teen drama about aliens living among us comes with some welcome updates that place it firmly in the present day, layering social commentary into the sci-fi romance that highlights our politically divided nation.

Of course, the new iteration of the show still has all the requisite tentpoles of a young adult sci-fi drama. There’s the central alien story line, in which Max (Nathan Parsons), Michael (Michael Vlamis), and Isobel (Lily Cowles) are siblings from another planet, who have thus far successfully assimilated into human culture. There’s the love story, in which Max pines for Liz (Jeanine Mason), to the point where he tells her his secret, jeopardizing his and his siblings’ safety. There’s the drama, coming in through sibling tensions escalated by supernatural powers and through a love triangle with Liz’s ex-boyfriend, Kyle (Michael Trevino). There’s intrigue and mystery: What are these aliens hiding, and will they be found out?

But unlike the previous TV show, which starred Shiri Appleby and Jason Behr as the star-crossed lovers, Roswell, New Mexico takes place ten years after high school, making all of their problems a little more serious, a little more intense, a little more adult — and because of that, a little more political.

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Liz, a scientist, has become everything Max and his siblings have always feared. “It’s the science that scares us the most,” he tells her in the premiere episode. And Max, now a cop, has become the same for Liz, the Mexican-American daughter of an undocumented immigrant in a border state.

Our southern border is, of course, a hot issue right now; our government is in a stalemate over funding for a wall in that very space. President Donald Trump refuses to sign any government budget (and thus end the shutdown) that does not allow for his $5 billion fence meant to prevent people from entering the country illegally through Mexico, while members of Congress — namely, Democrats, plus an increasing number of moderate Republicans — refuse to waste money on a symbolic gesture that fuels racism and won’t even solve the non-existent problem it’s intended to address, preferring to instead use those funds for immigration reform.

On the show, that wall is also the reason that Liz is returning to her hometown after all these years — her Denver lab “lost funding because someone needs money for a wall,” leaving her jobless — and the veiled racism that fuels cries for the wall is the same hatred targeted at Liz’s father, a diner owner trying to contribute to his community to the best of his ability.

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While this seems like a perfectly timely for early 2019, it’s important to note that the show was actually made in 2018, before the government shutdown and before a GoFundMe was created for a citizen-funded wall — which goes to show that the country’s latest divisions are the foreseeable results of years of underlying animosity.

Part of this was a choice, and part of it was the natural result of aligning this iteration of Liz with the character in the book series Roswell High; choosing a present-day Latina lead meant making a political statement.

“We’re living in a world where certain people feel disenfranchised or certain people feel threatened, and I feel like those things come up in conversation all the time in our daily lives,” writer and executive producer Carina Adly MacKenzie told MTV News and other outlets at during a visit to the show’s Santa Fe set.

And for these modern times, the allegory between the aliens and the immigrants actually works out well. “We try to tell the story on the sci-fi metaphorical level and then to also tell the story on a more real level,” she said. “We have undocumented immigrants on our show that are feeling threatened the same way that we have aliens on our show that are feeling threatened, and I think that they’re not that different … Storytelling in general, I think, is about humanity.”

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Since humanity extends beyond border politics and racism, as the story progresses, the show tackles other less talked-about but equally prevalent social issues, like sexuality, mental health, and returning military support, all woven into the alien-dominant storyline in such a way that you almost don’t realize just how many issues we’re dealing with until you pause and list them — kind of like marginalized issues in real life.

Taking care not to tokenize any characters and to offer varying perspectives, MacKenzie noted the overall goal was to tell “stories about what it feels like to be an ‘other’ and to feel all alone and to not have a community that you can look at” — something that we can all relate to in some way or another.

“Overwhelmingly, I think the through line is this idea of looking for a place to belong and looking for acceptance for what you are — you know, the truth of what you are and being able to be accepted for that,” Cowles said. “Tolerance and acceptance, versus intolerance and feeling threatened and endangered by something that’s foreign.”

Tolerance and acceptance, a message apt for Roswell, New Mexico, and for everyone living in the United States in 2019.

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List of accused Jesuit abusers shows some moved to schools years after accusations

A list of 50 Jesuits who were found by their organization to have been credibly accused of abusing minors was released this week, revealing that some of the alleged abusers circled through various institutions, sometimes for years, after the alleged abuse took place.

The list, released by the Northeast Province of Jesuits on Tuesday, shows that much of the abuse was reported years after it allegedly took place, meaning that officials may not have known about the wrongdoing when they transferred priests from one institution to the next.

However, nine priests the list states, continued to be transferred from schools to parishes, retreats or other works projects after reports were made about their alleged abuse.

“We did not know any best practices to handle these violations many decades ago and regrettably made mistakes along the way,” Fr. John Cecero, the head of the Northeast Province of Jesuits, said in a statement that was released along with the list.

One example is John Farrand, who was reported for allegedly abusing minors in 1961, the same year that he worked at Regis High School in New York, according to the Northeast Province of Jesuits.

The nature or exact dates of the alleged abuse was not detailed.

Regis High School confirmed yesterday that Farrand is one of four priests listed who have had credible allegations of abuse made against them pertaining to their time at the school.

In the same year that he was accused of abusing minors, Farrand was transferred to nearby Brooklyn Prep, where he stayed from 1961 until 1972. After that, he went on to teach at a school in France, a school in Puerto Rico, and then returned to New York and taught at Loyola School from 1976 until 1997.

Farrand is listed as having admitted the abuse — though it is not known when he made this admission — and as being deceased.

Thirty five people on the list are listed as deceased. Of the remaining 15 people, two are currently incarcerated and 12 others have been removed from the ministry.

PHOTO: Regis High School in New York is pictured in this undated image from Google.Google Street View
Regis High School in New York is pictured in this undated image from Google.

The one Jesuit on the list who remains in ministry is Keith Pecklers, who according to the Northeast Province of Jesuits was found to have been credibly accused of something that happened before he became a Jesuit.

Mike Gabriele, the director of communications for the Jesuits, told ABC News that the alleged incident took place when Pecklers was a minor, and though he is still in active ministry at the Gregorian University in Rome, his work is restricted.

“One of those restrictions being he is not allowed access to minors, he cannot be the spiritual adviser to minors,” Gabriele said.

Of the people listed, the majority of cases where a Jesuit remained in ministry after an abuse claim was filed against him happened before 2002, the same year that The Boston Globe ran a “Spotlight” investigation series about the sex abuse by Catholic priests. In the wake of those stories, the Catholic Church implemented new policies that required that priests who faced accusations be temporarily removed from ministry during the investigation, and permanently removed if the accusations were found to be credible.

Gabriele said that before those policy changes, which are commonly known as the Dallas Charter, priests were often sent for treatment for what was perceived as a possible medical problem connected to the alleged abuse. If they completed treatment, they were allowed to re-enter the service.

“A lot of it was looked upon like alcohol and drugs, where if you went through treatment successfully, treatment was successful,” Gabriele said.

The Northeast Province of Jesuits includes New York, northern New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Some of the most prestigious Jesuit institutions in those areas, including Boston College, Fordham University, and College of the Holy Cross, are listed as either places where the accused allegedly abused victims, or where they served before or after the alleged abuse.

The majority of schools that appear on the list are high schools, and Boston College High is the school listed most frequently.
Boston College High put out a statement after the list was released on Tuesday, noting that 16 Jesuits and former Jesuits on the list passed through their doors.

“BC High is committed to providing a safe and secure learning environment for our students, faculty, and staff. To that end, we continuously review and update our handbooks, policies, procedures, and training in order to ensure that we have proper protocols in place for the confidential reporting of any misconduct,” said the school’s president, Grace Cotter Regan, in a statement.

The Jesuit’s list of alleged abusers comes as at least 16 jurisdictions across the country have launched investigations into clerical sex abuse following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report alleging a decades-long cover-up of abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests.

PHOTO: Ongoing Investigations Catholic ChurchABC News
Ongoing Investigations Catholic Church

In addition to an ongoing Illinois investigation, officials in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia — as well as the Archdiocese of Anchorage in Alaska — told ABC News their offices were reviewing their options and considering taking similar action.

For victims’ advocates, the release of the list by the Northeast Province of Jesuits was welcome, but not enough.

“Releasing these names publicly is crucial not only for the safety of children and the healing of survivors, but also to encourage victims who may be suffering in silence to come forward,” Zach Hiner, the executive director of The Survivor’s Network, also known as SNAP, said in a statement. “Revealing these names will help to deter future clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. Still, the fact remains that this is a long-overdue move prompted only by pressure from prosecutors, parishioners and the public.”

Hiner’s statement goes on to call for greater accountability.

“Were the complaints investigated? Were they reported to police? Were priests immediately removed in response? The answers to these questions will be critical to fully understanding not only the scope of the crisis, but what changes must be made in order to prevent future cover-ups and put the safety of children front and center,” Hiner said in the statement.

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San Francisco pier shooter seeks dismissal of gun charge

A Mexican man who touched off a fierce immigration debate over his role in the shooting death of a woman walking on a San Francisco pier is seeking to overturn his felony gun possession conviction. It was the only charge he was found guilty of after a jury acquitted him of murder.

Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate had been deported five times at the time of the shooting and was wanted for a sixth deportation proceeding.

Lawyers for Garcia-Zarate filed the expected appeal last week in state court. He contends he didn’t know a gun was in his hands because it was wrapped in a T-shirt when it fired and he dropped it almost immediately after picking it up. He argues in court papers that he can’t be convicted of illegal gun possession.

Garcia-Zarate was charged with murder and illegal gun possession for the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle in July 2015. Steinle was shot in the back was she walked with her father on a city pier crowded with tourists taking in the sights.

Garcia-Zarate had been recently released from jail after prosecutors dropped a 20-year-old marijuana possession charge. He had been transferred to San Francisco’s jail after serving nearly four years in federal prison for illegal re-entry into the United States.

The San Francisco sheriff released Garcia-Zarate from jail despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him until they could pick him up for deportation proceedings. San Francisco’s so-called sanctuary city policy bars local law enforcement officials from cooperating with most federal immigration investigations.

The shooting and the city’s sanctuary policy turned into a major campaign issue in multiple national and local races across the country. President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to the shooting during his 2016 campaign to bolster his argument for tougher immigration policies and his opposition to sanctuary cities.

The gun used in the shooting belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported it stolen from his car parked in San Francisco. A San Francisco jury in 2017 acquitted Garcia-Zarate of murder but found him guilty of illegal gun possession and he was sentenced to the time he spent in jail awaiting trial.

Trump called the verdict in a Tweet “disgraceful” and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy for Steinle’s death. The U.S. Attorney in San Francisco then filed federal charges of illegal gun possession and he was transferred to federal custody.

That case has been on hold pending the outcome of a closely watched U.S. Supreme Court case challenging federal prosecutors’ authority to duplicate state court charges in federal court. If the Supreme Court finds the practice unconstitutional double jeopardy, a federal judge said he would dismiss Garcia-Zarate’s federal gun case.

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Group aligned with Ocasio-Cortez prepares to take out Democrats

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

As New York Democratic Rep. Aleandria Ocasio-Cortez’s following multiplies, so does the the Justice Democrat movement, an outside group focused on finding primary challengers for some incumbent Democrats. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

Elections

Justice Democrats is forging ahead with plans to mount primaries against incumbent Democrats it deems too moderate — with the apparent backing of Ocasio-Cortez.

Justice Democrats, the liberal group that engineered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s meteoric rise — hijacking the Democratic Party in the process — is ready to go to war.

The opening salvo? An eight-minute video released Wednesday starring Ocasio-Cortez and calling for a new crop of activists and community organizers to run against the Democratic machine.

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“If you’re a one-term Congress member, so what?” Ocasio-Cortez says in the video. “You can make 10 years worth of change in one term if you’re not afraid.”

Justice Democrats, which orchestrated Ocasio-Cortez’s long-shot bid last year against the fourth-ranking House Democrat, Joe Crowley, hopes to replicate its success in blue districts across the country.

And they have a powerful ally on the inside in Ocasio-Cortez, who can corner her colleagues in Congress to get behind what she herself has called “radical” policies like a 70 percent tax rate on the ultra-wealthy and a “Green New Deal.” Two of Justice Democrats’ founders, Saikat Chakrabarti and Corbin Trent, are senior staffers in her office. And Chakrabarti, her chief of staff, served on the board of Justice Democrats until he resigned earlier this week.

Since her swearing-in this month, Ocasio-Cortez and her staff have tried to create distance between the 29-year-old congresswoman and Justice Democrats, claiming to not be involved in the group’s plans to mount primaries against incumbent Democrats it deems too moderate. But Wednesday’s video, featuring Ocasio-Cortez and her two senior aides discussing those very plans over coffee with Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas, is far from the neutral position she’s espoused.

“That combat approach is going to upset a lot of people,” said ACLU political director Faiz Shakir, a former senior adviser to Democratic Leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. “What she’s suggesting is the way I’m going to get people is by carrying a stick.”

Pressed on whether Ocasio-Cortez supports the Justice Democrats’ primary effort, Trent said she’s not “focused” on its campaign. But “yes, with 70 percent of people living in a safe red or safe blue district, for most people that’s going to happen through the primary process.”

Ocasio-Cortez is not alone in her support for Justice Democrats’ efforts.

“I am part of a new era of social justice advocates that believe in accountability no matter what party you’re part of,” said newly elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who was endorsed by Justice Democrats. “It’s important to have more people like us running for office and I want to support that.”

Tlaib recently infuriated her new colleagues by calling on Democrats to “impeach the motherf—er” in reference to President Donald Trump at a progressive rally.

Justice Democrats doesn’t consider itself the tea party of the left, but the group admits its impact is similar. Together with Ocasio-Cortez, the group is forcing the Democratic Party to recalibrate, shifting policy conversations leftward in response in the same way the tea party movement dragged Republicans to the right.

House Democrats may criticize Justice Democrats’ campaign as destructive or misguided, but other progressive groups are cheering them on.

As Ocasio-Cortez’s following multiplies — she has 2.4 million Twitter followers and counting — so does the the Justice Democrat movement. Every time Ocasio-Cortez pushes a 2020 contender toward one of her policy positions, Justice Democrats revels in taking the credit.

But the question remains whether the two-year-old group can deliver a repeat of Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory, which capitalized on a low-turnout primary and a sleeping incumbent. This time around, establishment Democrats see them coming.

“I hear members talk about [Justice Democrats] from time to time,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), a Crowley confidant and former vice-chair of the caucus. “They do wish that they would recognize that our own members aren’t the enemy. …We probably agree on 90 percent of everything.”

First on their target list is Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), an anti-abortion centrist who supported an incumbent House Republican over a Democrat in 2018 and has previously sided with the GOP on immigration.

“An outside group thinks they know south Texas politics better than I do, I think [they’re] going to find out,” Cuellar said. “My district, I’ve polled it and polled it and they are moderate and conservative Democrats.”

The group’s criteria for picking primary target is unclear and at times contradictory. Two weeks after the 2018 elections, Justice Democrats leaders said they wanted to launch primaries against more “white, male corporate Democrats similar to Joe Crowley.” But Cuellar is Latino and nowhere near as progressive as Crowley. He’s an obvious target for the liberal group because he votes with Trump more than 60 percent of the time, and is against Medicare for All.

But if Justice Democrats follows through on going after Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) — one of their prospective targets — it would be for entirely different reasons. Rice is a progressive. She has voted with Trump just 28 percent of the time and cosponsored legislation to slash fossil fuel dependence. She is popular in her district. But Justice Democrats still has her in its sights.

“You can tacitly support Medicare for All and a Green New Deal and we still might primary you because there’s energy in the district to find someone more charismatic and compelling who is actually going to be a movement builder,” said Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats.

Rice, in a statement to POLITICO, said “I’d gladly put up my strong progressive record against any potential challenger.”

Justice Democrats “would love to run challengers” against all the Democrats who don’t support a Green New Deal or who take corporate PAC money, Shahid said. But the organization has less than a dozen staffers who all live in different states, and no headquarters. It relies on “super volunteers” to do much of the work.

So Justice Democrats is picking targets carefully, based on a combination of factors: Is there a charismatic challenger? Is the challenger able to activate energy in the district? Are the voters in the district unhappy with their incumbent?

“On paper [Crowley] was left of center of the party,” said Shahid. “It’s important to leave room for districts like that where there’s a long-time incumbent who kind of has a machine and voters want a change and it’s hard to notice that on paper, which is why it’s hard describing what our criteria are.”

Shahid confirmed that Justice Democrats is keeping a close eye on Rice’s district, taking cues from the small, grass-roots contingent and polling released by progressive activist Sean McElwee of Data for Progress. Though McElwee operates separately from Justice Democrats, the group regularly talks to him about potential primary targets.

While its target list looks haphazard and its ideological yardstick difficult to gauge, Justice Democrats’ overarching goal has remained the same: To root out long-time pols who embody the big-tent Democratic Party and replace them with more Ocasio-Cortezes.

It’s a fight that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and other Democratic leaders want to avoid.

“If any of our attention is diverted to primaries … it’s not what we want to do,” said Bustos, a moderate Democrat who represents a district that Trump carried. “Henry Cuellar is a hard-working member of Congress. He’s a good man, and we want to make sure he comes back. I hope we don’t have to turn our attention away from what is most important to survive with this fragile majority that we have.”

One of Justice Democrats’ endorsed candidates, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), agreed.

“It is quite inappropriate for groups to decide on whether or not somebody deserves to represent their district. Those decisions need to come from the people that we represent,” Omar said.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, who flipped a red seat in southern California, survived a tough primary in which Justice Democrats backed one of her competitors.

“It’s a dangerous strategy,” Hill said of the group’s decision to single out incumbents. “Right now I think we should be focused entirely on keeping the people who just got elected, keeping our majority, winning the Senate and getting Trump out of the White House.”

Justice Democrats’ strength lies in its combative tactics, social media presence and connection to Ocasio-Cortez — not its fundraising prowess. Last cycle Justice Democrats raised $2.4 million, according to FEC filings. That doesn’t count the nearly $900,000 it helped candidates raise through small-dollar fundraising emails.

Shortly after joining Justice Democrats on a call announcing plans to launch primaries against Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez launched a leadership PAC. Those are typically used to raise money for fellow candidates and expand a member’s influence within the party. The mission of Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC is to support candidates “ideologically aligned” with her, but is “not for the specific purpose of” mounting primaries against incumbents.

Progressive Caucus leaders Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have distanced themselves from Justice Democrats. And for the first time, the caucus’ fundraising arm is hiring a full-time staffer devoted to candidate recruitment in the 2020 cycle.

“If there are progressive candidates who emerge in districts, a sitting Congress member who’s doing a good job shouldn’t be worried,” Jayapal said. “I am expending zero energy in trying to recruit other candidates to run against Democrats.”

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