March 19, 2019 / 7:20 PM / a month ago

Bernie Sanders hires Beto O'Rourke critic as top aide in 2020 race

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday said he is hiring a well-known liberal journalist with a history of sharply criticizing other Democratic presidential candidates, including Beto O’Rourke.

Sanders’ campaign said it is bringing in David Sirota, whose work has appeared in The Guardian and Newsweek, among other outlets, as a senior adviser and speechwriter.

The move could stoke tensions within the Democratic field since Sirota has previously targeted O’Rourke, a former U.S. congressman from Texas who entered the presidential race last week, and other rivals.

Sirota on Twitter and in published articles has accused O’Rourke of siding with President Donald Trump and Republicans while a member of the House of Representatives, as well as being overly friendly with the oil and gas industry.

Sirota’s criticism of O’Rourke in December drew a warning from Neera Tanden, a top ally of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and president of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank.

“A supporter of Bernie Sanders attacking a Democrat,” Tanden tweeted. “This is seriously dangerous. We know Trump is in the White House and attacking Dems is doing Trump’s bidding.”

The conflict was a reminder of the bad blood between the Clinton and Sanders camps when they battled for the Democratic nomination ahead of the 2016 presidential race and the mistrust between the party’s moderate and progressive wings.

Sirota also has slammed presidential candidates Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, as well as former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, for being overly cozy with corporate interests.

Sanders’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Sirota’s hiring.

Sirota worked for Sanders as a press secretary when Sanders was a member of the House of Representatives in the early 2000s.

An article Sirota wrote in 2013 for the liberal news website Salon praising the economic record of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s late socialist president, also attracted criticism on social media from Sanders’ Democratic Party critics and conservatives alike.

Sanders recently refused to label Venezuela’s current president, Nicolas Maduro, a dictator or recognize the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the country’s rightful leader - the current U.S. position.

Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, saying Maduro’s re-election was not legitimate.

O’Rourke said while campaigning in Iowa last week that he supported Guaido’s claim on Venezuela’s presidency. (Reporting by James Oliphant; editing by Colleen Jenkins and G Crosse)

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