Three prominent Democratic lawmakers are sticking their necks out for Rep. Eliot Engel — formally endorsing him ahead of the primary fight of his career.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) offered praise for Engel’s (D-NY) 31-year House career and his tenure as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman in their endorsements, made exclusively to Politico on Sunday.
The two lawmakers join a list of prominent Democrats from outside the Empire State — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who have joined the effort to help the New York Congressman hold on to his seat.
Engel has struggled to secure endorsements ahead of his June 23 primary, where the 73-year-old incumbent will face off against former middle school principal Jamall Bowman.
Bowman, 43, has the backing of progressive heavyweights like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as well as members of New York’s liberal establishment.
The 16-term incumbent lawmaker was able to add one prominent New York ally to his team over the weekend: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
Jeffries, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Democratic Caucus chair, made his endorsement official Saturday in an exclusive interview with the New York Daily News.
In his endorsement, the No. 4 House Democrat did not mince words about a recent controversy plaguing the embattled politician, calling Engel’s “if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” remark from earlier this month “inartful.”
Jeffries went on to defend Engel, saying that “his words were weaponized against him and taken out of context.”
Engel has defended the remarks since, arguing that he wanted voters to know he cared deeply about the unrest roiling the city.
“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,” he said.
The CBC came under fire with their endorsement of Engel’s reelection bid, due to the fact that Engel is white and Bowman is black.
The caucus, however, is a strong defender of seniority within its ranks, and has previously endorsed white incumbent lawmakers instead of black primary candidates.
Regardless, some Democratic insiders have noted to The Post that Bowman, a Justice Democrats-backed progressive, is a much better fit for the political moment as the nation experiences civil rights protests not seen since the 1960s in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“He’s following the Joe Crowley playbook,” said one Democrat source, referring to the party stalwart who was infamously unseated by Ocasio-Cortez in 2018.
Clyburn spoke to that in his endorsement of Engel, telling Politico, “During the South Carolina primary several months ago, I endorsed our party’s presumptive nominee, Joe Biden for President, because of his long and distinguished record of standing with us. The same goes for Eliot Engel.”
It is unclear if the endorsements will be able to save Engel from the string of disastrous headlines he has faced since May.
The New York Democrat’s primary race went from bad to worse when The Atlantic revealed how Engel was missing in action for over two months as his New Rochelle district battled the first COVID-19 outbreak in New York.
Instead, the magazine reported, he was hiding out at his Maryland home.
The vanishing act left political pundits scratching their heads and Bowman seized on the moment to accuse Bronx-born Engel as having “completely lost touch” with the district he serves.