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Ocasio-Cortez draws ire from Democrats: ‘Meteors fizz out’
Frustrated Democratic lawmakers are offering Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez some advice: Cool it.
Ocasio-Cortez stunned the political world with her upset primary victory last month over Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), the head of the House Democratic Caucus and a rising star within the party.
But while the improbable win made Ocasio-Cortez an overnight progressive superstar, a number of House Democrats are up in arms over her no-holds-barred approach, particularly her recent accusation that Crowley, who has endorsed her candidacy, is seeking to topple her bid with a third-party run.
Some legislators are voicing concerns that Ocasio-Cortez appears set on using her newfound star power to attack Democrats from the left flank, threatening to divide the party - and undermine its chances at retaking the House - in a midterm election year when leaders are scrambling to form a united front against President Trump and Republicans.
The members are not mincing words, warning that Ocasio-Cortez is making enemies of soon-to-be colleagues even before she arrives on Capitol Hill, as she's expected to do after November's midterms.
"She's carrying on and she ain't gonna make friends that way," said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). "Joe conceded, wished her well, said he would support her ... so she doesn't know what the hell she's talking about."
"She's not asking my advice," he added, "[but] I would do it differently, rather than make enemies of people."
Asked if Ocasio-Cortez is, indeed, making enemies of fellow Democrats, Pascrell didn't hesitate.
"Yes," he said. "No doubt about it."
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) offered a similar message, saying success in the 435-member House comes slowly - and hinges largely on the ability of lawmakers to forge constructive relationships with other members. Alienating more senior lawmakers within your own party, he warned, will only stifle the ability of Ocasio-Cortez to get anything done - even despite her newfound celebrity.
"Meteors fizz out," Hastings said. "What she will learn in this institution is that it's glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that's just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance."
He added: "You come up here and you're going to be buddy-buddy with all the folks or you're going to make them do certain things? Ain't happening, OK?"
The criticism highlights a broader debate among House Democrats, who have wallowed in the minority for the past eight years and are still reckoning with the unexpected ascension of Trump to the White House. The discussion has featured animated internal disagreements over how - and when - to realize generational change at the top of the party, as well as ideological conflicts between liberals and centrists over how best to broaden the party's regional appeal and retake power under the bombastic Trump administration.
Those questions have been revisited with the rise of Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist whose grass-roots campaign hinged on a promise to eschew corporate interests and discard the machine-politics approach she's accused Crowley and the Democrats of adopting. In the eyes of her progressive supporters, Ocasio-Cortez is a breath of fresh air who will help in the fight for their ideals.
"There is a need for progressive members in the caucus to raise the bar in terms of what we want and what we're willing to do to get it," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who called Ocasio-Cortez to congratulate her on her victory. "And that involves a lot of risk, and that involves stepping on toes."
Ocasio-Cortez scored a resounding victory over the 10-term Crowley, winning almost 58 percent of the vote, and the musically inclined Crowley quickly conceded the race on election night with a dedicated rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
Yet New York's archaic election laws have complicated the contest, as write-in votes on a third-party line - the Working Families Party - will likely result in Crowley's name being on the ballot in November.
The revelation led Ocasio-Cortez last week to take to Twitter with accusations that Crowley retains hopes of upsetting her bid and returning to Congress next year.
"So much for 'Born to Run,' " she tweeted.
Crowley quickly responded, also on Twitter, noting that he can remove his name from the ballot only by dying, moving out of the district or running for a separate office he has no intention of holding - a dynamic he equates with election fraud.
"Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together," Crowley said. "I've made my support for you clear and the fact that I'm not running."
Corbin Trent, spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, downplayed the divisions, dismissing the episode as "one tweet" that's been blown out of proportion.
"It's a dead issue," Trent said Monday by phone. "The election's over."
Trent said there's been no direct communication between Ocasio-Cortez and Crowley since the blowup, but suggested a conversation is "imminent."
Crowley's office declined to comment on Monday.
Meanwhile, some Democrats are seething that Ocasio-Cortez would attack Crowley so publicly after securing her victory.
"Once an election is over and you win, why are you still angry?" said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). "I think it's a lack of maturity on her part, and a lack of political acumen, for her to be that petty.
"We as Democrats better figure out who the real enemy is. And it's not each other."
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was more gentle, though he still lamented the tone of the post-primary debate, attributing it to inexperience on the part of Ocasio-Cortez.
"When it comes to courtesy and decency, and especially the way - the class way - in which Joe Crowley has conducted himself and every overture that he's made, I think she would be wise to rethink some of the things that she's saying," he said.
Separately, a number of Democrats are also going after Ocasio-Cortez for her decision to endorse a handful of progressive candidates challenging sitting Democratic lawmakers, a list that includes Clay and Reps. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), as well as Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
Ocasio-Cortez has defended that decision, saying she's merely endorsing other liberal candidates "who uplifted & acknowledged my own campaign before anyone else would."
Some Democrats have rushed to her defense, arguing that primary endorsements are a healthy part of the democratic process - even when you're bucking incumbents in your own party.
"Look, I took on Pelosi. I'm all for having fights and doing what needs to be done," said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) following the 2016 elections. "As long as you're doing that with sportsmanship and class, then I think it's fine.
"Let's have a fight."
Grijalva noted that he's backed primary challenges to sitting Democrats, most recently in endorsing the liberal candidate hoping to unseat Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.).
Still, Grijalva acknowledged that such endorsements could make life tougher on Ocasio-Cortez when she arrives on Capitol Hill.
"The rules [she's adopted] might not apply in terms of the protocols and the niceties of incumbents here in the House," Grijalva said. "But once you're in the middle of the work and you have an agenda to promote, you might need their help."