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-CortezFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Shontel Brown wins Ohio Democratic primary in show of establishment strength On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal MORE (D-N.Y.) joined with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Briahna Joy Gray: Voters are 'torn' over Ohio special election Shontel Brown wins Ohio Democratic primary in show of establishment strength 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 WarrenStaff seeks to create union at DNC America's middle class is getting hooked on government cash — and Democrats aren't done yet California Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election MORE (D-Mass.), than he did in 2016.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response 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 HarrisKamala Harris and our shameless politics Pelosi: House Democrats 'ready to work with' Biden on eviction ban Meghan McCain predicts DeSantis would put Harris 'in the ground' in 2024 matchup 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 TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE’s presidency.