As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSen. Brian Schatz tests positive for COVID-19 Democrats call on FDA to revisit ban on gay, bisexual men donating blood amid shortage Senate Democrats introduce bill to ban stock trades in Congress MORE’s star rises in the Democratic Party, all eyes are on how the progressive powerhouse will influence the 2020 platform — and with it the prospects of Joe BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Democrats' struggle for voting rights bill comes to a head David Weil: Wrong man, wrong place, wrong time Biden's voting rights gamble prompts second-guessing MORE at the top of the ticket.
The New York Democrat endorsed Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWe are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Overnight Health Care — Biden's Supreme Court setback Republican rep who voted to impeach Trump running for reelection MORE (I-Vt.) in the Democratic presidential primary, becoming one of his most vocal and prominent surrogates. She also frequently criticized Biden, the former vice president, as overly centrist, saying in January that the two would be in different political parties “in any other country.”
Since Biden became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee earlier this year, Ocasio-Cortez has emerged as a key figure in attempts to bridge the ideological gap between the party establishment and the more populist camp represented by Sanders. Shortly after Sanders exited the race, she joined the party’s “unity task force,” which developed policy recommendations designed to satisfy both factions and build a common front against President TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE heading into November.
In an even more prominent role, Ocasio-Cortez is also scheduled to speak Tuesday at the Democrats’ virtual convention, providing an unusual platform for a first-term lawmaker — and self-described democratic socialist — who’s often at odds with the party brass. A day later, she’s set to address the same audience in a separate video segment.
It’s not that Ocasio-Cortez is driving the ship. The proposed platform she helped develop does not include "Medicare for All," a signature issue for both her and Sanders, nor does it contain key components of the Green New Deal, the liberals’ wish list for environmental policy. However, it does embrace a host of other progressive priorities, including a public health insurance option, guaranteed early childhood education and a $15 minimum wage.
As a result, the party platform set to be adopted at the virtual convention is “definitively [the] most progressive platform that will be adopted by the Democratic Party,” Joel Rubin, a strategist with the liberal group Democracy Partners, told The Hill.
“Much of the ideas were built upon with the work of the working group,” added Rubin, who advised Sanders’s 2020 campaign.
Indeed, the 2020 Democratic draft platform has several positions in common with the task force report, including carbon-free electricity production by 2035 and net-zero emissions in the agriculture sector. Both positions come from the task force’s environmental group, which Ocasio-Cortez co-chaired.
Such provisions are sure to energize the Democrats’ liberal base, which has seethed under four years of Trump and is already invigorated by the national protests for racial justice prompted by the police killing of George Floyd.
But the tug to the left is not without political risk, and Trump has seized on Ocasio-Cortez’s and Sanders’s roles in developing the recommendations, seeking to portray Biden as in thrall to the far left. Republican campaign operatives are only happy to pile on, hoping to link vulnerable centrist Democrats to the most liberal voices in their party.
“The more Democrats highlight Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her whacky socialist policies, the better,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the House Republicans’ campaign arm. “AOC is an anti-Semitic, anti-American radical who has made it her mission to get cops killed, destroy the economy and eliminate the American dream.”
Ocasio-Cortez's office declined to comment for this story but referred The Hill to a July tweet by the congresswoman on the working group's recommendations. In the tweet, Ocasio-Cortez declared the working group had "meaningfully & substantively improved Biden’s positions."
Democrats are pushing back, arguing that many of the policy proposals they’ve adopted are too broadly popular, according to public polls, for this line of attack to be effective.
“These are things that matter. These are pocketbook issues. These are not extremist issues,” Rubin said. “The more that the president tries to demonize progressives, the more he’s going to have to explain why the policies that progressives are advocating are not going to help Americans, and I think that’s an argument that we’ll win.”
The coronavirus pandemic has also laid bare the effects of income inequality on health care outcomes, meaning voters are more likely than ever to see the issue Ocasio-Cortez’s way, according to Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
“Whether it’s Joe Biden or [Sen.] Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWe are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Fed's Brainard faces GOP pressure on climate stances Sanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans MORE [D-Mass.] or AOC, we as Democrats can proudly take big, bold solutions to the American people and know that our ideas are popular,” Green told The Hill.
Ocasio-Cortez’s influence on the party platform, Green said, has put Biden in a position to better appeal to the progressives who may not have been enthusiastic about him during the primaries.
“A combination of progressive influence and this pandemic crisis have pushed Joe Biden to expand his own boundaries of how far to go on big solutions, and the places he’s landed are both bold and extremely popular with voters, so Trump will have a hard time creating a wedge with voters,” he said.
In an election year when race, gender and social justice are all at the forefront of the national debate, Ocasio-Cortez seems uniquely suited to play an outsize role on the campaign trail.
As a prominent member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, she's been on the front lines of the Democrats' battles with Trump over immigration enforcement, police reform and poverty alleviation — even when it meant criticizing the official party line as too tepid.
As the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, she speaks to millennial voters who've been historically reluctant to participate in elections.
And as a social media megastar — boasting more than 8 million Twitter followers — she has the platform to reach them.
Those dynamics were all on display last month after Ocasio-Cortez was accosted outside the Capitol by GOP Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoOcasio-Cortez: Gosar so weak he 'couldn't open a pickle jar' Rep. Gosar posts anime video showing him striking Biden, Ocasio-Cortez Will America fight for Taiwan? MORE (Fla.), who referred to her using a vulgar, sexist slur. Hardly rattled, Ocasio-Cortez used the episode as an opportunity to seize the House floor and denounce a "culture" of sexism on Capitol Hill and beyond — a theme that's been pronounced under Trump and has grown even more so with Biden's choice of Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWe are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Joe Biden's disastrous 48 hours The Hill's Morning Report - For Biden, it goes from bad to worse MORE (D-Calif.) as his running mate.
The message, Democrats say, is not that women are running to check a box. It's that they're finally getting the due they've been denied for too long.
"Let's recognize [Harris] not only as the first woman of color to be vice president, but the best possible person he could have chosen to proceed into this election," Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' King family to march for voting rights in Arizona before MLK Day GOP's McCarthy has little incentive to work with Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-Calif.), no stranger to breaking glass ceilings, told MSNBC last week.
Yet Republicans see their own strategic opportunities in the rise of liberal figures such as Harris and Ocasio-Cortez, who are radioactive in conservative circles. And GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill that tying Biden to Ocasio-Cortez could help Trump “recapture” exactly the voters slipping away from him, such as senior citizens and suburbanites.
“One of the big points that President Trump wants to sell is that Joe Biden sells himself as a moderate but in reality he’s a figurehead for the far left,” O’Connell said.
“The very voters Trump needs to recapture to win this election ... they are not big fans of what AOC is selling,” he added.
O’Connell noted that some establishment Democrats are already seeking to diminish Ocasio-Cortez’s role in the convention. He pointed to comments by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) suggesting Ocasio-Cortez speaking would be unnecessary.
“If you picked AOC, why wouldn’t you pick [Rep.] Katie Porter [D-Calif.], or why wouldn’t you pick [Rep.] Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanNational progressive group labels six lawmakers 'progressive in name only' in new report Democrats start blitz to sell infrastructure House GOP campaign arm expands target list after brutal night for Dems MORE [D-Pa.] or [Rep.] Mary Gay ScanlonMary Gay ScanlonSuspect charged in Philadelphia carjacking of Democratic congresswoman Illinois state senator carjacked at gunpoint near Chicago Five arrested in connection with carjacking of House Democrat MORE [D-Pa.]?” Rendell told Politico last week, referring to several other less polarizing women in the Democrats’ freshman class.
“What you can tell is when you look at someone like Ed Rendell is it becomes immediately clear that establishment Democrats see her as annoying and often pretend the words that come out of her mouth or on Twitter never really happened,” O’Connell said.
“[But] she is the present and future of the Democratic Party, and when she talks, Democrats listen — particularly the far left,” he added.