Progressive tensions burst out into the open amid Jones-Bowman split

Tensions among progressives are spilling into public view after former Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) waded into one of the most contentious House primaries earlier this week.

Jones, a former darling of the left in the House, endorsed embattled progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s (D-N.Y.) primary opponent in the June 25 race to represent New York’s 16th Congressional District, citing Bowman’s position on Israel as a top reason.

The move has unleashed fury from within his ranks. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) lambasted Jones, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC has rescinded its endorsement of him. The developments come as Jones vies for a seat in a different district in New York this fall.

The fallout has laid bare the divisions on the left as members grapple with the thorny politics of the Israel-Hamas war in a state that could prove pivotal to control of the lower chamber.

“I think New York politics especially rewards a kind of calculating opportunism that Mondaire Jones has perfected,” said one progressive strategist familiar with the race’s dynamics.

“Now he’s kneecapping another progressive out of fear that if he doesn’t, he’ll become a target himself. Mondaire’s main political concern has never been who will best advocate Democratic values, it’s been what Mondaire thinks is best for himself,” the source added.

Progressives in and out of Capitol Hill have soured on Jones, who is seeking a separate seat in the 17th District, after welcoming him into their coalition as fresh talent in 2021. He was elected as part of a group of young and diverse liberal leaders in New York who extended Ocasio-Cortez’s legacy of insurgent success and helped expand progressive ranks in the House.

Bowman was in the same camp that year. The former middle school principal became the first man to join the “squad” and has been an advocate for some of the most fervent left-wing positions among House Democrats, proving his bona fides to the progressive wing that favors ideological purity tests.

While Jones never technically joined the “squad,” he became a reliable progressive vote and didn’t hesitate to criticize President Biden after he beat former President Trump, including taking him to task at the White House over voting rights in a move that earned him credit within on the left. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) called Jones “squad-adjacent” in a recent interview with Politico.

In a sign of the shifting political dynamics of this cycle, Jones has pushed back strongly on that label. In an interview with CNN on Friday, he denied ever being “squad-adjacent,” saying he was “always a pragmatist and an independent voice for my values.”

That favor, however, appears to have run out. After Jones made the surprise move to back Bowman’s primary challenger — Westchester County executive George Latimer, who is funded by AIPAC — his former allies quickly turned on him.

Progressives denounce Latimer’s campaign as a vanity effort to run Bowman out of office from his Westchester-Bronx district after he expressed criticism of the Israeli government and its military’s handling of Gaza. Latimer is decidedly pro-Israel, while Bowman has repeatedly called for a cease-fire and has refereed to Israel as an “apartheid state,” a term Israel supporters find offensive and inaccurate.

Jones said his support of Latimer is a sign of allyship to Jewish New Yorkers, who he suggested Bowman does not embrace. “I am making this endorsement to stand up for my Jewish constituents, because Rep. Bowman and I have very different views on Israel,” he said in a statement after the Progressive Caucus PAC rescinded its endorsement.

AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups have echoed that sentiment and have boosted Latimer, who made a personal trip to Israel to show his commitment to it. A spokesperson for AIPAC declined to comment on the race.

Jones’s endorsement, ostensibly against his own wing of the party, came as a shock to many progressives and put into clear terms that Israel has become one of the most critical tests among Democrats following the attack by the Palestinian group on Oct. 7.

Progressive leaders who considered Jones one of their own were quick to condemn his boosting of Latimer, especially as Democrats have only a slim chance of regaining control of the House and see every seat as critical to their calculus. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the CPC, told NBC News she was “disgusted” by Jones’s actions.

Several organizers convened a call with activists on Bowman’s behalf, seeking to educate the public about the stakes and the strategy to keep him in office. And high-profile progressives are publicly expressing their support for him.

“I’m not surprised that Congressman Mondaire Jones did what he did because he bought and paid for like all the other grifters who take money from AIPAC,” said Nina Turner, who served as Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) campaign co-chair.

Turner added she is “pleasantly surprised” the Congressional Progressive Caucus is “showing a spine.”

It’s not the first time progressives have been forced to close ranks around Bowman. At the end of last year, Bowman was censured by the GOP-controlled House and investigated after pulling a fire alarm during a vote to avert a government shutdown.

Many of those who stood by him then are doing the same now. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who like Bowman is a former educator, endorsed him this week, while the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Working Families Party also backed his reelection bid.

Organizers have also sought to play up Bowman’s strength advocating for liberal issues, like a fair wage and working class mobility, when special interests they say continue to dominate contentious primary battles within the party.

“We can’t keep electing people who are too scared to stand up to the billionaires,” UAW President Shawn Fain wrote on the social platform X in favor of Bowman as the divisions became more pronounced throughout the week.

At this point in the race, Bowman faces considerable hurdles. A March Mellman Group poll funded by DMFI, which has endorsed Latimer, shows Latimer at 52 percent support compared to Bowman’s 35 percent. Other polling from Upswing Research taken the same month shows Bowman with a 1-point lead over his rival, 44 percent to 43 percent.

Democrats who want to see Bowman succeed recognize the challenges ahead, with strong feelings over Israel still dictating how both candidates are perceived in the city.

“Sadly this is the kind of thing that hobbles progressives, and right now Bowman is facing terrible odds,” the progressive strategist said.

“It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to overcome this, and the end result will be yet another go-along-get-along corporate Dem warming a seat for decades.”

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