Ocasio-Cortez signal of support is good news for Pelosi

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) could soon be on Team Pelosi.

The liberal freshman firebrand made a splash during her first day of orientation by joining a protest outside of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Oil lease sale in Alaska nets .5M | House climate panel likely won't pass bills | EPA hires new head of Chesapeake office Stephen King torches Trump over border wall: 'Do something good for once' Pelosi agrees to term limits vote; insurgency collapses MORE's office to demand action on climate change.

But over the weekend, Ocasio-Cortez told her nearly 800,000 Instagram followers she will likely back the California Democrat, calling her the most progressive of the possible candidates for Speaker.

A formal endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez would be a boon for Pelosi as she seeks to return to the Speaker's office and create the perception that the longtime Democratic leader is building momentum for her bid.

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While Pelosi’s camp says it was never worried about winning over the fellow liberal, Ocasio-Cortez’s support could inject excitement into Pelosi's candidacy and counter critics who say the 31-year veteran lawmaker has been around too long and represents stale ideas.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, will be the youngest woman to serve in Congress when she’s sworn in next year. She’s a rock star of the left, and her primary win over veteran Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), once seen as a natural successor to Pelosi, makes her seem like an agent of change in a caucus dominated by elder statesmen.

Speaking with supporters on her Instagram live feed, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that the group of anti-Pelosi insurgents are mostly centrists who worry that handing power back to the San Francisco liberal would harm newly elected centrists who helped deliver Democrats the House majority this month.

“Right now, out of the field, I would say that [Pelosi] is the most progressive candidate. All of the rebellion for the Speakership are challenges to her right, and so I think it's important to communicate that,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who boasts more than 1 million Twitter followers and has been documenting her freshman orientation on Instagram. “My standard in this is: I'm going to support the most progressive candidate that's leading the party, and right now, that is Nancy Pelosi, in terms of the running. I would like to see new, younger leadership, but I don't want new leadership that's more conservative.”

Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez argued, need to “transform our leadership,” but they shouldn’t reject Pelosi “just for the sake” of doing it.

The assist from Ocasio-Cortez comes as Pelosi is facing a math problem in winning the 218 votes needed to become Speaker in a public floor vote.

A group of 16 insurgents, mostly moderates, released a letter Monday expressing their commitment to vote against Pelosi on the House floor.

A handful of other Democrats did not sign the letter but have vowed to oppose Pelosi, including Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeLuján will have 'assistant Speaker' title Insurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders Nancy Pelosi's incredible comeback MORE (Ohio), Rep. Conor Lamb (Pa.), Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Rep.-elect Jason Crow (Colo.), which could be enough to block her ascension depending on the size of the new majority.

Pelosi has been cranking up the heat on freshman lawmakers, hosting back-to-back meetings on Friday with candidates who were critical of her on the campaign trail.

The 78-year-old’s allies have also been targeting on-the-fence freshmen, including young, liberal lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez who have called for generational change in the Democratic leadership ranks. They have argued that Pelosi is a fierce champion for progressive causes and is committed to grooming the next generation of leaders.

“I have publicly and privately said that Pelosi is the most progressive candidate who can win,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote House GOP blocks lawmakers from forcing Yemen war votes for rest of year Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi MORE (D-Calif.), a Bay Area liberal who backed Ocasio-Cortez’s primary bid, told The Hill on Monday. “I’ve said that to many freshman and to folks close to AOC.”

Pelosi has already personally met with Ocasio-Cortez “numerous times” during the past week, sources said, though they declined to offer any specifics about the conversations.

Ocasio-Cortez has made clear that a select committee on climate change is a top priority for her, which Pelosi has already agreed to establish. Pelosi, if elected Speaker, would also decide which lawmakers get to serve on the panel.

“Congresswoman-elect Ocasio-Cortez is a dynamic and engaging leader with an extraordinary gift for connecting with young people who may be getting involved in politics for the first time,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “Her groundbreaking use of social media is engaging and energizing a whole new level of grassroots.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s office declined to comment for this story, but she dodged questions from reporters on Capitol Hill last week about the Speaker’s race. She said she was more focused on pushing for key policy issues than wading into political fights.

“For me, I’m just not one to commit or not commit to a specific individual,” she said. “I think that we need to have a discussion about what our issue priorities are, instead of just what individuals we’re talking about.”

But Ocasio-Cortez appeared to shift her tone over the weekend when she expressed support for the longtime liberal leader.

An official endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez could carry weight with fellow progressive freshmen whom she is close with, like Reps.-elect Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.). They have talked about the need for younger and more diverse leadership, and until Monday, none of them had signed on to a letter of Democratic women who are backing Pelosi.

Omar backed Pelosi in a tweet Monday night that warned "divisions within our own party and public disputes over leadership will only hurt our efforts to get our country and our government back on the right course." 

Ocasio-Cortez ran on a progressive platform that includes "Medicare for all," a $15 minimum wage, rejecting corporate PAC money and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Pelosi’s core critics, by contrast, are mostly centrists like Spanberger, a former CIA officer who toppled conservative Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in a former GOP stronghold in the Richmond suburbs.

“I think if we are going to turn a page and bring civility back to the political discussions, we need to change the people that are directing those discussions,” Spanberger told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I have tremendous respect for everything Leader Pelosi has done ... but I have been very, very clear and honest about my intentions.”

A challenger to Pelosi has not yet emerged, though Fudge is openly weighing a Speaker’s bid and is expected to make a final decision after Thanksgiving. Fudge, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, has called for Trump’s impeachment — something liberals are clamoring for, but which Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have kept at an arm’s length.

That could make Fudge an attractive alternative for some progressives.

But Pelosi’s staunchest opposition is not expected to come from the left flank of the caucus.

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), where Ocasio-Cortez is likely to join next year, put out a statement praising Pelosi following a sit down with her last week. They said they were encouraged that Pelosi agreed to ensure that “CPC members are represented proportionally on the key exclusive committees” and that she envisions “more elected leadership positions that CPC members can run for.”

“We had a very productive conversation with Leader Pelosi today about the growing numbers of the Congressional Progressive Caucus after the election and the need to ensure that CPC members are well represented as we go forward,” said Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? Setting the record straight about No Labels Progressive rep says she’s ‘very disappointed' by Barbara Lee’s loss in bid for Dem caucus chair MORE (D-Wis.), co-chair of the CPC, and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? Push to pay congressional interns an hour gains traction with progressives Dem lawmaker says she helped group of migrants enter U.S., apply for asylum MORE (D-Wash.), first vice chair of the CPC.

“We look forward to reporting back to our CPC members on the productive and successful conversation with Leader Pelosi.”