Politico

Dems question whether Maloney can run DCCC while battling freshman colleague


House Democrats could find themselves picking sides in a deeply uncomfortable primary this summer: their campaign chair versus a Black freshman. And a growing swath of the caucus is blaming its midterm chief, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, for the predicament.

Maloney’s decision to abandon a newly redrawn version of his current swing district — and instead run for a seat that includes most of Rep. Mondaire Jones‘ turf — is raising private concerns from across the party that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chief has put himself in an inappropriate scenario: leading the party’s midterm strategy while potentially battling a fellow member.

While the map is not final and Jones hasn’t yet said whether he’ll take on Maloney, his other option if New York’s current maps hold is challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), another Black progressive freshman. Many of his colleagues are now bracing for the prospect of a freshman being forced to go up against the member who controls the party’s campaign coffers — a scenario they describe as completely avoidable.

Unlike typical midterm gripes about the party chair, the Democratic worries over Maloney’s move run the ideological gamut, according to conversations with nearly two dozen lawmakers and senior aides. But many lawmakers say they’re unable to raise that issue publicly, given that Maloney and his team decide how much the DCCC will spend in individual battleground races.

“It seems like there’s a conflict,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who along with Jones is one of the first two Black openly gay men ever elected to Congress. “New York 17 is primarily in Congressman Jones’ district. He should be regarded as the incumbent,” he said of the newly redrawn seat Maloney chose to run in.

Maloney’s decision made a bad map for the Democratic Party even more complicated “because of the access he has to resources, which probably outdo most members of the delegation,” said Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.).

At least a dozen members, mostly from swing districts, are even raising the prospect of trying to depose Maloney from his post as DCCC chair, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. Several are so determined that they have sent messages to members of leadership, including Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), making a doomed push for Maloney to step down.

And while many frontliners refused to speak out against Maloney publicly, some of their close allies in the caucus have offered biting criticism.

“You cannot have the chair of the DCCC involved in a Democratic primary with an incumbent colleague and expect that person to remain objective about their No. 1 job, which is incumbent protection,” said Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, who is retiring this year and has been outspoken at times in critiquing her party’s leaders.

Jones’ decision on whether to take on Maloney or Bowman will likely come after Friday, when New York will finalize congressional lines that were first revealed in a draft on Monday. Many members expect the public backlash against Maloney to dramatically escalate if Jones does decide to run in that seat — forcing the caucus to choose sides in the unprecedented contest.

Jones, meanwhile, is left in a tortured position: He can either challenge Maloney or run against Bowman, an ideological ally, in a Westchester County-based district that has just a quarter of his current constituents.

That means even if Maloney avoids a primary with Jones, his decision to run in that district will have forced two freshman Black progressives to duke it out in another race, decreasing the diversity of the delegation as a whole and sending recruiters scrambling to fill two open seats further upstate.

The potential matchup has sparked multiple questions across the caucus. Several have wondered whether Maloney could use his position at DCCC to secure endorsements, even inadvertently, or perhaps to corral donors.

“Is there a conflict? We’ll soon find out,” said Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.). “The other question is: Is he doing a good job raising money for Democrats? At this point, just a few months away from the election, do you want to disrupt that?

Others have wondered if Maloney has time and energy for both running in a grueling primary against a more progressive colleague and directing a multimillion-dollar enterprise that is steering Democrats’ bleak mission to keep the majority.

Not all Democrats say they are concerned.

“As long as he can compartmentalize,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the dean of the New York delegation who is in his own primary battle against another House committee chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

“It’s not going to be easy. Nobody said it was,” added Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who survived his own member-on-member primary a decade ago. “When he took his leadership position, he knew that was going to be a difficult task. … I’m confident that it’ll be alright.”

A senior Democratic aide, granted anonymity to speak candidly, also expressed confidence in Maloney’s abilities to continue leading the DCCC, saying he “clearly has the confidence of his colleagues.”

“This sort of pointless sniping is detrimental to our efforts to keep the majority,” the aide added. “We have an extremely capable DCCC chair who has demonstrated he can walk and chew gum.”

Other members acknowledged that the primary could be uncomfortable, but didn’t have an explicit problem with it as long as Maloney kept his efforts to fill the party’s campaign coffers separate from his own race. The DCCC rarely gets involved in primaries and certainly wouldn’t do so for a member-on-member contest.

Maloney’s allies have acknowledged the pains of redistricting — particularly in New York. But they say the five-term incumbent, part of the caucus’ younger generation in leadership, is most suited for that battleground district, and that Jones could struggle to compete there.

“Rep. Maloney fought harder than anyone to get maps that reflect the will of the people of New York, even at his own expense, and continues to fight against this illegitimate process,” said DCCC spokesperson Chris Hayden. “He has proven he can lead the DCCC without his own race interfering and he will continue to do so.”

The shuffling of those three congressional districts has sparked a heated discussion in the Democratic caucus since Monday. Several of those New York incumbents, including Maloney and Jones, were seen huddling with senior Democrats in the Capitol, including the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), who said she plans to speak to all incumbents involved to potentially avert a member-on-member fiasco.

“Obviously no chair of the CBC wants any of their members to have to run against each other, because somebody’s going to lose, and somebody’s going to win,” Beatty said. “It’s not illegal to not live in your district.”

A Jones bid against Maloney would be tough. The DCCC chair has access to a cadre of donors and could see help from establishment outside groups who are wary of more progressive candidates like Jones — particularly in a district that President Joe Biden would have carried by 10 points in 2020.

Even if Jones were to win the bruising primary, his reward would be another months long slog to the general.

Many of Democrats’ complaints have focused on the raw numbers of the new districts: The seat where Maloney chose not to compete — New York’s 18th District — backed Biden by 8 points, which they say is winnable by an incumbent but tougher for a first-time candidate in this environment. It has roughly 71 percent of Maloney’s current constituents.

The district Maloney has chosen to run in is slightly less competitive, going for by Biden by 10 points.

“His job is to help and encourage Democrats to run in precisely the type of district that he seems to not want to run in,” said one Democratic lawmaker, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly.

As Democrats await Jones’ decision, some long-time incumbents were stunned that the tumultuous redistricting cycle could end with a party chair going against a fellow Democrat.

“I’ve never seen or witnessed that,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who is now enduring his third redistricting cycle. Asked whether a DCCC chair can focus on the majority and his own survival, Larson said: “That’s up for him to decide. But it’s an unbelievable set of events.”

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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