Pelosi endorses Rep. Richard Neal in Democratic primary

BOSTON (AP) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave an enthusiastic endorsement Thursday of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal as the long-time incumbent and chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee tries to fend off a Democratic primary challenge by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

Pelosi called Neal "an absolute leader in the Congress, a progressive leader in the Congress, a person who is here” for America’s working families. She praised his work on taxes, climate change, trade and health care.

Neal has been “completely strong and tough minded” in his pursuit of President Donald Trump's tax returns, Pelosi said during a press conference.

“We are at the mercy of the court,” she said. “We could not have a stronger, wiser, more strategic advocate to get the president’s tax returns then Richie Neal.”

When Vice President Joe Biden wins, Pelosi said, and they have a new secretary of the treasury, “then the world will see what the president has been hiding all of this time," Pelosi added.

Pelosi also said it would be a “tremendous loss” for voters in Neal's 1st congressional district to reject him and his fiscal sway in the House.

“If you promise not to tell anybody, every time I turn around with any deal that we’re doing, there’s some, shall we say, project of national significance in his district that seems to have made the cut," Pelosi said.

Morse has tried to position himself as the progressive alternative to the 71-year-old Neal, who was first elected to represent the sprawling western Massachusetts district in 1988.

Morse this week won the backing of New York Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's political action committee. In doing so, Ocasio-Cortez is positioning herself against one of the most powerful Democratic members of the House.

“When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took on her own entrenched incumbent in 2018, she changed public service for the better, further inspiring me and so many others to fight for our districts," Morse said in a written statement.

The race between Neal and Morse has been marked by allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with students by Morse when he was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The 31-year-old Democratic mayor, who is gay, has maintained that his relationships with college students were consensual.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker also waded into the Democratic primary to throw his support behind Neal.

“Congressman Neal has been a powerful voice for all in the 1st District and the Commonwealth is a better place because of his hard work. I’m looking forward to working with him now more than ever as we fight and come back from this pandemic," Baker tweeted Thursday.

There are no Republican candidates vying for the seat.