Green New Deal backers in danger of losing primaries

By Timothy Cama | 05/16/2024 06:43 AM EDT

Progressives are encountering stiff competition in races this year. Allies are coming to the rescue.

Reps. Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman attend a vigil calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) during a vigil outside the White House last year calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. Nathan Howard/AP

Congress could lose some of the most outspoken Green New Deal supporters in Democratic primaries, though their allies are doing everything they can to stop that.

Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) — who have gained influence as top Democrats on two energy-related subcommittees — are facing some of the strongest primary challenges of the 2024 election cycle.

Aware of the danger, progressive groups are prioritizing the races with donations and phone banking, while arguing that the challengers are Republican-funded stalking horses.


Both Bowman and Bush back policies like the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All,” and both are being targeted by more centrist candidates in safely Democratic districts.

Those challengers back action on climate change but have not endorsed the Green New Deal — one candidate has been critical of the effort. The incumbents are trailing their challengers in fundraising and polling ahead of the primaries.

Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), another staunch progressive, faced a centrist opponent in an April primary but won easily.

The Green New Deal, a proposal for rapid decarbonization and more government involvement in energy, housing, health care and other areas, doesn’t appear to be the main driver behind any of the opposition to the incumbents.

Instead, the challengers, backed by pro-Israel interests, have focused heavily on the incumbents’ opposition to much of Israel’s military and humanitarian strategy in its war in Gaza following the Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel by Hamas. The attackers are estimated to have killed nearly 1,200, while Palestinians say nearly 35,000 have died due to Israel’s response.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has backed Bowman challenger George Latimer and Bush challenger Wesley Bell, as has Democratic Majority for Israel.

AIPAC’s affiliated super political action committee, the United Democracy Project, this week booked $1.9 million for advertisements in Bowman’s race, its first expenditures in the primary, according to ad data firm AdImpact. UDP is expected to spend at least $20 million each in Bowman’s and Bush’s races, The Intercept reported.

“We proudly endorse Wesley Bell, who is a strong advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship, in clear contrast to his opponent who represents the extremist anti-Israel fringe,” AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann said in a statement in February.

Lee said that while Israel might be the issue at hand, the people trying to oust her and her colleagues are also looking at other policies.

“I think that there are a lot of facades that people use when they attack progressives,” she told E&E News.

“They may use one wedge issue, but what we know is that at the end of the day, what they’re actually protesting is our policies around the environment, our policies around holding corporations and corporate polluters accountable, our policies around billionaires and tax cheats,” Lee said.

“That’s what they’re actually trying to stop us from being able to kind of influence as we grow in our ranks. And I think that a lot of people are starting to recognize that more.”

The United Democracy Project did not respond to requests for comment. Lee in April beat back a challenge from Bhavini Patel, a technology startup founder and borough council member.

Bowman and Bush declined interview requests. In addition to the issues surrounding Israel, Bowman continues to face backlash for pulling a fire alarm in a congressional office building last year, for which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Both lawmakers have carved out their own niches within the progressive climate change space, in addition to signing onto the main Green New Deal proposal.

Bowman, a former middle school teacher, is a lead sponsor of the “Green New Deal for Public Schools Act,” which would spend $1.43 trillion on green retrofits, climate resiliency and related efforts for schools. He is also ranking member on the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy.

Bush, a former nurse, is leading the “Green New Deal for Cities,” which would direct new funds to city and municipal governments to fight climate change and its effects. She serves as top Democrat on the Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy and Regulatory Affairs.

Challengers lead, prioritize climate

Latimer, the Westchester County executive, has said he’d make climate change, which he calls an “existential threat,” one of his top priorities in Congress.

In an interview with the news station NY1 last month, Latimer said climate is a priority for many voters in the 16th District and boasted about his work on the issue at the county level, like electrifying county buses. He also used the opportunity to criticize Bowman’s work on the Green New Deal.

“It’s one thing to advocate for macro legislation, but macro legislation isn’t moving,” he said. “You have to figure out how to take pieces of that legislation, get parts of it done, so something productively can happen.”

At a Monday debate between Bowman and Latimer, climate change got scant attention — both said they’d work to fight it, but there was no in-depth discussion.

George Latimer.
George Latimer during a press conference in 2021. | @LatimerforNY/X

Bell, a prosecutor, would prioritize environmental justice. His campaign website points to a desire to clean up radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek in St. Louis County.

“We must work together to combat climate change in a way that grows the economy and creates jobs at the same time,” he said on his website.

Bush has also prioritized cleaning up both contaminated sites and has worked with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to push legislation that would provide new money for people who were exposed to radioactive material during the Cold War.

Polls and fundraising numbers have favored the primary challengers. A March poll by the Mellman Group, commissioned by Democratic Majority for Israel, had Latimer with 52 percent, 17 points ahead of Bowman, though an Upswing Research poll earlier that month, commissioned by Bowman’s campaign, had Bowman 1 point ahead, at 44 percent.

Latimer has raised $3.6 million, ahead of Bowman’s $2.7 million, as of the end of March.

Bell led Bush 50 percent to 28 percent in the last public poll in that race, conducted in February by Remington Research Group and commissioned by the news outlet Missouri Scout. Bell has raised $1.7 million to Bush’s $1.5 million.

To the rescue

All three incumbent lawmakers have gotten help in their races from progressive allies including the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats.

Sunrise, which has long been the main outside organization pushing for the Green New Deal, counts those races as its top focus at the moment, said spokesperson Stevie O’Hanlon.

With Bowman’s race approaching June 25 — and expected to be one of the most expensive congressional primaries in history — Sunrise’s goal is to contact 300,000 voters through phone banking, door knocking and other efforts.

“These lawmakers are being challenged because the right-wing donors funding their opponents don’t like that they have stood up tirelessly for working-class people and for peace. They have taken on Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry and military contractors day in and day out,” O’Hanlon said.

Missouri’s primary is scheduled for Aug. 6.

Justice Democrats spokesperson Usamah Andrabi said the interests working against the progressives are more closely aligned with Republicans than Democrats.

“Nothing feels more emblematic to the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party than a Republican-funded super PAC coming after a former nurse and middle school principal,” he said, pointing to United Democracy Project donors like hedge fund manager Paul Singer, whose Elliott Management has fossil fuel investments.

“A lot of these mega donors, frankly, don’t care about Israel-Palestine policy, they care about making sure that their profits are as high as possible,” Andrabi continued.

“They know who is bringing everyday people into this movement, who is educating everyday people about the actual effects of corporate pollution and climate change on their lives and actualizing it in a way that is a massive threat to the Paul Singers in the world.”

Justice Democrats reported spending $80,000 on Lee’s race and $90,000, so far, on Bowman’s.