Ocasio-Cortez and Others Rally With Summer Lee Ahead of Primary

A high-energy crowd rallied on Sunday in Pittsburgh to support Representative Summer Lee, a left-leaning congresswoman whose primary on Tuesday is a high-profile test whether she can stave off a challenge aimed in part at her stance over the war in Gaza.

Headlining the event were Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the progressive lawmaker, and Justin Jones, the Tennessee state representative who rose to stardom when he was briefly ousted for protesting inaction on state gun legislation.

Speakers framed Ms. Lee’s race, in Pennsylvania’s 12th District, as crucial to building a movement for working people and to fighting what they cast as billionaire influence in the race.

The rally with several hundred supporters drew a small group of protesters who held signs outside the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers to criticize Ms. Lee and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s stances on the war in Israel and Gaza. Ms. Lee’s primary is one of the first down-ballot electoral tests of the Israel-Gaza conflict this year.

“To fight for common sense in the House is to often be alone. I have seen Summer walk alone,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “On Tuesday, what we must do is show her and show the world and show the people in that big white house that she is not alone.”

“It’s not about winning — it’s about winning big,” she added.

Ms. Lee won a close primary in 2022 against a moderate challenger on her way to become the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress. She has garnered broad support from Democrats this year. Even so, she has also faced pressure within her district after becoming one of the first members of Congress to call for an immediate cease-fire, just over a week after Hamas attacked Israel, and Israel responded with a military assault on Gaza.

During her remarks, Ms. Lee reiterated her support for union jobs, affordable housing and a “pro peace movement.” At one point, she told the audience that there was “no room for people who would use our communities against each other for their own political ambitions.”

She framed her race as being about democracy and appeared to acknowledge the heightened focus on her Israel-Gaza stance, saying, “You don’t have a democracy if one issue determines whether or not my community has representation.”

Her opponent, Bhavini Patel, a municipal councilwoman, has repeatedly criticized Ms. Lee’s votes relating to the conflict. Ms. Patel said in an interview that on Sunday she attended a “rally focused on the Jewish community” and decried her opponent’s rally as “bringing people here who are not from here.”

Ms. Lee and her supporters have sharply criticized the involvement of Jeff Yass, a Republican megadonor in Pennsylvania who gave significantly to Moderate PAC, a super PAC backing centrist Democrats and running ads supporting Ms. Patel. Ms. Lee and her supporters have seized on them: Her campaign distributed signs on Sunday that read “Move, Yass! Get out of the way.” (Ms. Patel said she had denounced Mr. Yass and his support.)

Allies of Ms. Lee also indirectly praised her Gaza stance. Mr. Jones told the crowd that Ms. Lee “shows us that solidarity is about consistency in showing up for each other,” and that solidarity includes a spectrum of people, “whether it’s workers in Pittsburgh or the people of Palestine.”

“Summer is somebody who knows that sometimes confrontation is confirmation that we are on the right path for victory,” he said.

And when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez began to criticize AIPAC, the pro-Israel group that is backing challenges to progressive incumbents outside Pennsylvania, the audience promptly booed the group’s mention.

Backers of Ms. Lee have pointed to her diverse coalition as evidence that she can draw support from the groups that the national Democratic Party is looking to motivate, such as young people and voters of color.

Meanwhile, a handful of critics outside the venue, several of whom said they were backing Ms. Patel, held signs that criticized Iran and cast Ms. Lee and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as opposing Israel. The protesters said they were especially unhappy with Ms. Lee’s vote last week against a foreign aid package that allocated billions to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, and imposed new sanctions on Iran.

“We as a Jewish community are afraid, and we want her to understand that by not supporting things like Iran sanctions, it makes not just Israel but also America less safe,” said Julie Paris, a regional director for the pro-Israel group StandWithUs and Pittsburgh resident.

But Ms. Lee’s backers vastly outnumbered Ms. Paris and her compatriots.

Will Allison, who served as president of College Democrats at the University of Pittsburgh, said his group had endorsed Ms. Lee, the first primary endorsement he said the group had made.

“We’re very lucky to have her as a congresswoman who can bring the money back to the district and can make the system work for us as her constituents, but who can also authentically hold to her positions and take those tough votes,” he said.

And when Mayor Ed Gainey of Pittsburgh took the stage and asked the crowd, “Y’all know what time it is?” the audience emphatically shouted back: “Summer time!”

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