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Saikat Chakrabarti, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Chief of Staff, Quits After Race Tweet Ignites Firestorm

House Democrats had been privately calling for the ouster of Saikat Chakrabarti after he sparked a storm by challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi and comparing moderate House Democrats to segregationists.

New York Times

Updated:August 4, 2019, 11:32 AM IST
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Saikat Chakrabarti, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Chief of Staff, Quits After Race Tweet Ignites Firestorm
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti (centre) in Washington, on February 7, 2019. (Pete Marovich/The New York Times)
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Washington: Two of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s top aides who were instrumental in forging her unexpected path to victory last year are leaving Capitol Hill, less than a month after one of them ignited a firestorm by challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi and comparing moderate House Democrats to segregationists.

House Democrats had been privately calling for the ouster of Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s embattled chief of staff. He and Corbin Trent, her communications director, had gone to Capitol Hill determined to wage their confrontational brand of progressive politics forged as leaders of Justice Democrats, a group dedicated to unseating entrenched Democratic lawmakers through primary campaigns. Justice Democrats helped Ocasio-Cortez sweep to power with the defeat of a veteran House Democrat, Joseph Crowley.

But less than a year later, after a bruising skirmish this summer with Democratic leadership, both are calling it quits, they told The Intercept on Friday. Their departures will be seen as Ocasio-Cortez’s most tangible peace offering since her private meeting last week with Pelosi.

Chakrabarti “has decided to leave the office of Representative Ocasio-Cortez to work with New Consensus to further develop plans for a Green New Deal,” Trent told The Intercept, referring to the congresswoman’s ambitious climate change program. “We are extraordinarily grateful for his service to advance a bold agenda and improve the lives of the people in” New York’s 14th District.

The New Consensus is a liberal nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and promoting the Green New Deal. Trent will return to working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign.

Chakrabarti, intent on continuing his anti-establishment movement from inside the halls of power, had rankled lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill after he posted on Twitter his support for liberal candidates trying to topple sitting Democrats and his disdain for Pelosi’s legislative prowess. His challenges to elected leaders were considered in Congress to be remarkable breaches of protocol from an unelected aide.

His position became untenable last month after he compared moderate Democrats who sank a liberal emergency border aid package to “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,” he tweeted.

He later deleted the post, but the damage was done. In an extraordinary effort to crack down on the chief of staff, Democratic leaders leveraged the House Democratic Caucus’ official Twitter account to resurrect a tweet by Chakrabarti that said that he believed Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress, was enabling a “racist system” in voting for a weaker border aid package.

“Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?” House Democratic leaders asked on Twitter. Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, privately implored Ocasio-Cortez to fire Chakrabarti to wipe the slate clean.

Catie Edmondson c.2019 New York Times News Service

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