House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s latest comments seeming to belittle Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are yet another illustration of the big differences between the two high-profile Democratic lawmakers.
While Pelosi is a practical politician looking to pass legislation that can become law, Ocasio- Cortez seems more interested in advocating revolutionary changes that can excite those on the far left – but have no chance of becoming law.
In an interview published Monday in USA Today, Pelosi didn’t criticize Ocasio-Cortez by name, but it was obvious who the speaker was referring to her when Pelosi said: “While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what's important is that we have large numbers of votes on the floor of the House.”
USA Today also quoted Pelosi as saying: “I’m a progressive from San Francisco. I think I can have some credentials on the left, as a person who has represented a very liberal city. But you have to govern mainstream.”
Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman House member who calls herself a socialist and represents part of New York City, has nearly 4 million Twitter followers. She’s been the focus of an enormous amount of media attention and received both praise and criticism for her advocacy of radical positions, such as supporting big tax increases for the wealthy and massive new government programs.
One of the programs Ocasio-Cortez has called for is the Green New Deal, which would dramatically alter American society in an effort to reduce climate change and income inequality.
The Green New Deal calls for ending the use of oil, natural gas and coal to produce energy in 10 years; creating a single-payer health care system for everyone in the U.S.; guaranteeing everyone who wants to work a federal job; providing a guaranteed income even to people “unwilling to work;” providing universal access to healthful foods; upgrading every home and commercial building in the nation for energy efficiency; tuition-free public colleges; and other actions.
Pelosi is 79 and nearing the end of her long career. Ocasio-Cortez is only 29 – young enough to be Pelosi’s granddaughter – and is just beginning what seems to be a very bright (and potentially long) political future.
Critics say the Green New Deal would be impossible to achieve and unaffordable, costing as much as $93 trillion – or the equivalent of $600,000 for every U.S. household.
At the start of the current congressional session in January, it seemed that Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez were going to be sisters-in-arms, fighting for the Democratic agenda and against President Trump. The strong women shared the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with smiles on their faces. And Ocasio-Cortez cast her vote for Pelosi to become speaker of the House.
But what has transpired since seems to be a power struggle between two women with two entirely different backgrounds and two very different political styles.
Pelosi is 79 and nearing the end of her long career. Ocasio-Cortez is only 29 – young enough to be Pelosi’s granddaughter – and is just beginning what seems to be a very bright (and potentially long) political future. She’s too young to run for president, but her most enthusiastic supporters have called for her candidacy once she hits the minimum age of 35 to be eligible to hold our nation’s highest office.
One could argue that Pelosi is looking at what she and the Democratic-controlled House can accomplish in the short-term, helping to secure her legacy. In contrast, Ocasio-Cortez is looking at far-reaching ideas to transform America in the long run. In other words, Pelosi is concerned with today, Ocasio-Cortez with tomorrow.
For those keeping score, Pelosi – with the power of the speakership – has been winning the battles between her mainstream Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez’s smaller socialist faction of the party. Sometimes it seems like Pelosi is the adult in the room, schooling the newcomer as to how things are done in Washington.
Let’s take a look at the Green New Deal. Although Ocasio-Cortez proposed it, she must realize it has little chance of approval even in the Democratic-controlled House, and no chance of approval in the Republican-controlled Senate. And to no one’s surprise, President Trump has made clear that he opposes it.
Pelosi is clearly a strong believer in the old saying that “politics in the art of the possible.” She understands that the Green New Deal is not only too ambitious to become law but faces too many hurdles to be funded and implemented.
And Ocasio-Cortez has at times acted more like an outsider protesting the status quo than an insider elected to pass legislation. Last November – after she was elected but before she took her House seat – she joined environmental activists storming Pelosi’s office and live-streaming the event. Pelosi calmly said she supported the enthusiasm of the demonstrators, but clearly stood her ground.
Ocasio-Cortez stood down. And when Pelosi put together a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, she selected Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., to lead it. Ocasio-Cortez isn’t even on the committee, which will consider legislation dealing with climate change.
Pelosi has proven for decades that she an extraordinarily skilled negotiator and legislative tactician. She has earned respect from leaders in both parties, including President Trump, who we caught kissing her on the cheek after their most recent meeting.
And while Ocasio-Cortez is focused on far-left ideological purity in the Democratic Party – she was elected by defeating a veteran mainstream Democratic House member in a primary – Pelosi is focused on ensuring Democrats keep majority control of the House with as many seats as possible. That means Pelosi will support Democratic moderates who can win in districts that voted for Trump in the presidential election.
For now, Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez can coexist in the Democratic Party. But in the 2020 general election the two will have to learn how to unite – not only on issues, but in support of candidates who can win.
Without unity among Democrats – in the center, left and far left – Democrats could face a repeat of the 2016 election, when Republican Trump captured the White House and Republicans kept majority control of both the House and Senate. That’s the last thing any Democrat should want to see.