Rep. Joe Crowley (NY) is the fourth-ranking House Democrat.
As the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, only House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD), and House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (SC) are ahead of Crowley in his party’s pecking order.
So the New York Democrat would be in prime position for an important leadership post in the new House majority when it’s seated in January.
He was even mentioned as a possible next Speaker of the House.
That is, he might have been in line for these career-making advancements had he taken his Democratic primary challenger, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), seriously.
He didn’t. The New York City congressman, in fact, didn’t even bother to show up for a debate against Ocasio-Cortez a week before the election. First elected to Congress in 1998, Crowley claimed an out-of-town engagement prevented him from participating in that match-up with his Democratic rival. Social media told a different story: The incumbent tweeted photos of himself in New York on the day of the debate.
Crowley immediately vowed to throw his support behind the new Democratic star.
The outgoing congressman was called out on Twitter by Ocasio-Cortez after apparently rescheduling three concession calls. He also refused to completely remove his name from the ballot, as ThinkProgress’ Addy Baird explained:
Crowley won the Working Families Party nomination, a minor but powerful third party in the state, but after he lost the Democratic nomination to Ocasio-Cortez, the state director of Working Families Party, Bill Lipton, reportedly reached out to Crowley and asked the congressman to vacate the line. Crowley declined.
It didn’t end up mattering in the general election to represent the diverse and heavily-Democratic 14th congressional district — which contains the Bronx and Queens — as Ocasio-Cortez defeated her GOP opponent by over 64 points to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
The Working Families Party’s Crowley finished a distant third, with less than half the number of votes of the Republican candidate.
Crowley’s time in Washington, D.C. is winding down after a 20-year-career. Fortunately for the New York Democrat, not being in Congress should free up more time for him to spend on his apparent passion: horse racing. Sludge reported Crowley’s PAC spent nearly $40,000 on “trips to horse racing tracks, hotels, airfare and several high-end restaurants” following his loss to Ocasio-Cortez.
Funding these outings, however, aren’t likely what those who donated money to Crowley’s “Jobs, Opportunity and Education PAC” (JOE PAC — get it?) had in mind when they ponied up the boodle, since it would seem his trips to the track addressed neither jobs, opportunity, nor education.
Perhaps the Democratic congressman just wanted to have a little fun on his way out. At least he wasn’t undermining his colleagues, right?
Well, no. That changed on Thursday when Crowley reportedly helped ensure that Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) would not be his successor as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Lee, who was supported by Ocasio-Cortez and many of the other new House Democrats, is one of the most progressive Democratic lawmakers in D.C. The California Democrat has only supported President Donald Trump’s agenda 7.7 percent of the time, the second-lowest rate of any member of Congress.
Crowley apparently warned his Democratic House colleagues before their leadership elections that Lee had donated to Ocasio-Cortez, his primary challenger. Which is true, by the way. The 11-term congresswoman did give $1,000 to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign.
But not until after she had won the primary.
The outgoing New York Democrat reportedly did this as an effort to depict Lee “as part of the insurgency that incumbents in Congress feel threatened by, according to Democrats who learned of the message Crowley was sharing.”
Lee was widely expected to be promoted to House Democratic Caucus chair, but she ultimately lost to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who has supported Trump’s agenda almost twice as often as she, by 10 votes.
Lee confirmed that these “rumors took place” and called them “very unfair” before noting she hadn’t even been aware that Crowley had a primary challenger until Ocasio-Cortez beat him.
The Intercept’s Ryan Grim noted several other reasons why Crowley may have backed Jeffries.
A protege of Crowley’s, Jeffries is heavily backed by big money and corporate PACs. Less than 2 percent of his fundraising comes from small donors, who contribute less than $200, according to Federal Election Commission records.
It is perhaps to no one’s credit that “don’t vote for the person who donated a small pittance of money to my primary opponent after I’d been well and duly beaten because of my sour grapes” proved to be a decisive argument in the vote for House caucus chair.
UPDATE: In a statement to ThinkProgress on Monday, Rep. Joe Crowley’s (D-NY) staff denied that the outgoing congressman was involved in the effort to undermine Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).
“Joe Crowley respects both Barbara Lee and Hakeem Jeffries and played no role in the race for caucus chair,” said Lauren French, the New York Democrat’s communications director. “Stories that he was whipping votes for either candidate are false and inaccurate.”