U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a high-ranking New York Democrat allied with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is facing a tough primary challenge from his left flank — and that fight to retain his seat in Congress may have just become more difficult, all thanks to the congressman himself.
While in attendance at an event in the Bronx on Tuesday addressing protests over the death of George Floyd that have rocked New York City — and the nation — for the past week, Eliot was caught on a hot mic begging for a chance to speak, but he admitted that he “wouldn’t care” to talk if he wasn’t locked in that primary battle, as Fox News reported.
Challenge from the far-left
Eliot, whose district includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester, has been accused of essentially abandoning his constituents throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as he has remained in Washington, D.C. instead of returning home to check on things, according to Fox.
That criticism has fueled the campaign of his main primary challenger, a far-left progressive education activist named Jamaal Brown, who was just endorsed by another primary challenger who had dropped out, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Brown also has the support of the far-left progressive group Justice Democrats, which helped Ocasio-Cortez defeat another top Pelosi ally, former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), in 2018, Fox noted.
Based on what was overheard by a local New York reporter on Tuesday, that challenge from his left flank appears to be the main reason Eliot finally returned to the Bronx and sought to address his constituents about what has transpired in recent days.
Caught on a hot mic
Earlier this week, Emily Ngo, a reporter for local media outlet NY1, posted a lengthy Twitter thread detailing the ins-and-outs of Eliot’s primary fight — and the criticism he has received. Ngo also included a video of the moment when Eliot seemed to imply that the primary challenge was the only reason he wanted to speak.
The congressman, speaking with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, had asked for the opportunity to address the crowd in the news conference, but was essentially told that it was unlikely due to all of the other officials there who would be speaking.
Eliot then twice said to Diaz, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” according to Fox, to which Diaz replied: “Don’t do that to me.”
Diaz responds, “Don’t do that to me.”
— Emily Ngo (@emilyngo) June 2, 2020
Eliot explains: “Of course, I care deeply”
Later, Ngo shared a statement issued by Eliot as a sort of explanation for what he had been overheard saying. “In the context of running for re-election, I thought it was important for people to know where I stand, that’s why I asked to speak,” the Democrat said, according to Fox. “Of course, I care deeply about what’s happening in this country, that’s what I wanted to convey.”
Whether this “hot mic” moment will doom Eliot’s re-election bid or not remains to be seen, but given his apparent absence from his own district — and the alignment of increasingly powerful progressive forces in the challenge against him — it certainly won’t help matters.