NEW YORK – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi teamed up with one of the emerging progressives in Congress on Monday for a town hall in New York, showing a united Democratic front months ahead of the midterm elections.
Pelosi appeared with freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a rising progressive in his suburban New York City congressional district to field questions from a couple dozen locals and mark the anniversary of the giant COVID-19 relief package that Democrats in Congress sent to President Joe Biden.
For Pelosi, appearing with a younger, progressive Black congressman making his first reelection campaign helps build her party’s unity as the white 81-year-old California Democrat prepares to try to defend the Democrats’ fragile majority this November.
Pelosi has urged Democrats to unify ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, when the party in control of the White House typically lose seats in Congress, and to move past infighting between the party’s centrist and leftist flanks.
For Bowman, it’s a coup to have the House Speaker by his side in his district as he appears before his constituents and prepares to make his first reelection campaign in a newly redrawn congressional district that envelops more suburban and moderate voters than it did two years ago.
Bowman opened the town hall by acknowledging the “conversation here bridges so many gaps,” and praised Pelosi, saying she had always allowed for him and other freshman lawmakers to be themselves.
“She has always empowered me and allowed me to represent my district in the best way that I know how," Bowman said. “Despite the rhetoric and the framing of a party at odds with itself, that is not true at all. It's a space where the diversity of people and ideas are welcome. So there's going to be some disagreement. That's how a democracy works.”
Bowman, who represents the Bronx and suburban Westchester County, defeated 16-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel in a primary two years ago for New York’s 16h Congressional District. His win mirrored the upset victory that his fellow New York City progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pulled off four years ago in a neighboring district representing the Bronx and Queens.
Bowman has already drawn several challengers for this June’s primary election, the winner of which is expected to go on to win in November the heavily Democratic district.
Earlier Monday, Pelosi appeared with other members of New York’s Democratic delegation to highlight another one of the legislative achievements Democrats are expected to campaign on this year: the $1 trillion infrastructure plan Congress passed and Biden signed last year.
As she stood on a breezy pier in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, a small group of union workers chanted “Nancy!” and Pelosi praised Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, along with Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke and touted the billions that the infrastructure plan would bring to help repair New York highways, bridges and airports.
Bowman was among six of the party’s farthest left members who voted against the plan in the House as they tried to insist that the legislation’s vote be tied to a larger social spending bill.
Pelosi and Bowman were asked about the fracture during a news conference after their town hall, with the speaker admitting with a laugh that she was upset Bowman had voted “no.”
“I don’t think he would have let the bill go down, but I’m not speaking for him,” she said.
“I was happy that the bill passed. It was strategic play, hoping to push for my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to get Build Back Better over the hump. We’re still fighting to get Build Back Better over the hump,” he said.
Bowman is a former middle-school principal who was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America in his 2020 campaign but fissures have emerged in the relationship amid the organization’s stances over Israel and the conflict in Ukraine.
The DSA last year considered expelling Bowman as a member for visiting Israel on a trip with J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group, meeting with Israel’s prime minister and voting to provide U.S. financial support for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The group condemned Bowman’s actions, saying they were in conflict with the DSA’s commitment to the “Palestinian fight for freedom.”
More recently, the organization has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but paired that with calls for the U.S. to withdraw from NATO and to “end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict.” The stance is out-of-step with a broad swath of both Democrats and Republicans and Bowman, who issued a statement recently affirming his support for NATO.