The Memo: Alliance with Ocasio-Cortez could pay off for Sanders

The Memo: Alliance with Ocasio-Cortez could pay off for Sanders
© Greg Nash

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: Detailed sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo 'painful to read' The GOP's uncertain future Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (D-N.Y.) joined with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill NFL's Justin Jackson praises Sanders for opposing Biden's USDA nominee MORE (I-Vt.) on Thursday to propose new restraints on predatory lenders — and she may boost his 2020 prospects, too.

Ocasio-Cortez was an organizer on Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign and shares much of his political worldview.


A reminder of those ties could prove potent for Sanders, who faces more competition for progressive voters this election cycle, from rivals such as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster MORE (D-Mass.), than he did in 2016.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits MORE, running a more centrist campaign, has shot into an early polling lead.

Ocasio-Cortez told CNN in a hallway interview Thursday at the Capitol that she was "entertaining" the idea of making an endorsement in the primary but that "it's not going to be for a while." She spoke positively of both Sanders and Warren.

But even supporters of other Democrats agree that AOC, as she is widely known, could help Sanders merely by appearing alongside him as she did Thursday.

“Having someone who is the equivalent of a rock star on your side is never a bad thing,” said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state legislator who is backing Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBrown vows Democrats will 'find a way' to raise minimum wage Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren MORE (D-Calif.) in the primary.

Sellers, who is African American, added that Sanders still faces challenges with nonwhite voters but “anytime AOC wants to help you, it’s a hell of a lot better than if she doesn’t.”

Ocasio-Cortez is one of the most famous Democrats in the country just six months after her election to the House. She has a formidable social media presence, draws abundant media coverage and is the primary subject of a Netflix documentary.

She and Sanders announced their new proposal during a Facebook Live event on Thursday.


Their legislation would cap interest rates on credit cards and other consumer loans at 15 percent, except in unusual circumstances. They also propose allowing post offices to offer basic banking services. Among other benefits, this would enable checks to be cashed by people without traditional bank accounts, and without hefty commissions being charged.

For both politicians, the legislation fits with their overarching political narrative — that financial institutions have too much power and that the game is rigged against working people.

During their Facebook Live announcement, Sanders blasted “grotesque and disgusting behavior” on the part of predatory lenders, while Ocasio-Cortez invoked the writer James Baldwin’s maxim that it is expensive to be poor.

While that kind of rhetoric sparks angry pushback from conservatives, that will hardly worry Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez. They are not in the business of placating Republicans.

“What is the downside?” liberal activist Jonathan Tasini asked rhetorically, adding with a laugh, “I suppose they might not get too many contributions from the CEOs of credit card companies.”

Tasini was a national surrogate for Sanders in 2016 and donated to Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign last year.

Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh agreed with Tasini's observation.

“Republicans are going to go nuts about it, but they are going to go nuts about everything,” she said. “You can’t base your own strategy around whether someone else is going to dishonestly criticize you.”

Sanders’s move might have another motive, too. The proposed legislation clarifies the divide between him and Biden.

In a Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire residents released Thursday, Biden led his closest competitor, Sanders, by a 2 to 1 margin: 36 percent of respondents favored the former vice president, while 18 percent backed the Vermont senator.

Progressives believe that one of Biden’s several vulnerabilities is his closeness to the credit card industry.

Warren has already hit Biden for his support, more than a decade ago, of a bill favored by credit card companies that made it harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy. During Biden’s years as a senator representing Delaware — a hub of the credit card industry — MBNA Corp. was one of his biggest contributors. (MBNA, a credit card company, was acquired by Bank of America in 2006 and later sold on to the British-based Lloyds Banking Group.)

Last month, Warren said that when she was fighting for consumers on the bankruptcy-related bill, “Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.”

Charles Chamberlain, the chair of progressive group Democracy for America, said that the Sanders’s proposal with Ocasio-Cortez “exposes one of his other primary challengers. Joe Biden is not good on credit cards and credit card fees, he is not good on bankruptcy and he is not good when it comes to his close relationship with the Wall Street banks.”

Waleed Shahid, communications director of Justice Democrats — a group founded by former Sanders staffers that also played a central role in Ocasio-Cortez’s rise — said the issue was one of several “where a lot of progressives differ from Joe Biden ... Joe Biden has a lot of vulnerabilities that the public doesn’t know that much about.”

Shahid said he did not know if Ocasio-Cortez would make an endorsement in the primary. But he added, “She has enormous weight in the Democratic Party right now. ... It would be a big deal.”

Biden and Sanders would probably agree — for very different reasons. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE’s presidency.