Nancy Pelosi is obviously having difficulty controlling the increasingly acrimonious infighting between factions of the House Democratic caucus. Most observers assume that the primary cause of this discord is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the cadre of far-left first-termers collectively known as “the Squad.” But its actual source is Saikat Chakrabarti, the prime mover behind a Tennessee-based PAC called the “Justice Democrats,” whose support was largely responsible for getting Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ro Khanna, and Pramila Jayapal elected last November. Chakrabarti has now set up shop in the House, ostensibly as AOC’s chief of staff.
Chakrabarti’s previous HQ was a Knoxville address out of which the Justice Democrats and another PAC operated side by side with a dozen congressional campaign committees. This arrangement flouted a variety of campaign finance laws and prompted several Federal Election Commission complaints, including one alleging that Chakrabarti set up a $1 million slush fund. But this sort of skullduggery is standard practice among Democrats. What exacerbated the already tense atmosphere in their House caucus was Chakrabarti’s response to the $4.6 billion border aid package passed by Congress last month. On June 27, he took to Twitter and berated the Democratic leadership for its shortcomings:
As usual, Dem leadership tried to create a pre-watered down border bill because of a mistaken idea that it’s more “viable.” And they lost to McConnell anyway. This is the entire theory of change that never works. Why not start from your strongest negotiating stance?
Predictably, this presumptuous tweet drew a number of angry responses from various Democrats who had voted for the measure, whereupon Chakrabarti once again betook himself to Twitter and proceeded to accuse his critics of racism:
Instead of “fiscally conservative but socially liberal,” let’s call the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus the “New Southern Democrats.” They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.
Chakrabarti later deleted that tweet, but not before it had clearly signaled who actually calls the shots in AOC’s office. There isn’t the slightest possibility that a 33-year-old staffer in the office of a first-term U.S. congresswoman would even consider publicly criticizing the Democratic colleagues of his putative boss — much less the leadership of her caucus — if he feared any serious consequences. Can you imagine what would happen to a staffer in GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s office who had posted a tweet insulting the freshman congressman’s Republican colleagues? The staffer would be lucky to escape with his life, much less his job. The best he could hope for would be the cardboard box treatment.
But that’s not what happened to Chakrabarti. He not only remained on the job, but he was also encouraged by AOC in a series of typically incoherent tweets. A week after the above-quoted tweets Chakrabarti took to Twitter yet again and openly admonished Nancy Pelosi — who was first elected to Congress when he was still in diapers and also happens to be the Speaker of the House — for her eminently sensible reluctance to pursue a politically suicidal impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s fictitious crimes. In another tweet posted the same day, he ridicules Pelosi’s legislative acumen and compares her supposed deficiencies to the “strategic smarts” of the weird sisters of the Squad:
All these articles want to claim what a legislative mastermind Pelosi is, but I’m seeing way more strategic smarts from freshman members like @AOC, @IlhanMN, @RashidaTlai and @AyannaPressley. Pelosi is just mad that she got outmaneuvered (again) by Republicans.
Pelosi exhibited considerable forbearance with AOC and the rest of the Squad for the first few months after they joined Congress. She had to put out a few fires for them, of course, including several conflagrations related to their propensity to trade in anti-Semitic slurs. But the attacks on the Democratic caucus, not to mention Pelosi personally, by a staffer exhausted the speaker’s patience. She singled out Chakrabarti in a closed-door meeting last week and told him, “Do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.” Meanwhile, after he suggested that votes cast by Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) “enable a racist system,” the House Democratic Caucus went after him on Twitter:
Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color? Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice. She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue. Keep Her Name Out Of Your Mouth.
But wait, there’s more: Chakrabarti’s Justice Democrats PAC is also taking fire from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The Hill reports, “Congressional Black Caucus members are furious at Justice Democrats, accusing the outside progressive group … of trying to oust lawmakers of color, specifically African American lawmakers.” The PAC evidently plans to primary at least six CBC members who occupy safe Democratic seats simply because they don’t lean far enough to the left. Chakrabarti is clearly using his position as AOC’s chief of staff to engineer a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. He said as much during an extensive profile for The Washington Post Magazine:
To me, there wasn’t a difference between working for her and working for the movement … The whole theory of change for the current Democratic Party is that to win this country we need to tack to the hypothetical middle … you don’t take unnecessary risks, which translates to: You don’t really do anything.
Chakrabarti doesn’t see himself as a mere staffer in some congresswoman’s office. He sees AOC as someone who provides him with a headquarters from which he can “fundamentally change” the Democratic Party. As the magazine’s profile phrases it, “Saikat Chakrabarti isn’t just running her office. He’s guiding a movement.” What does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez think about all this? It isn’t her job to think. That’s Chakrabarti’s function. Her job is to provide him with a platform to carry out his grandiose political schemes. Whenever you hear AOC say something outrageous, remember that Saikat Chakrabarti is behind the curtain, furiously pushing buttons, spinning dials, and pumping the smoke machine.
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Author: David Catron