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Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez: The yin and yang of Democratic politics

The Democratic odd couple in the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are the yin and yang of Democratic politics.

One is a veteran establishment Democrat; the other is a young grassroots activist. Pelosi is Ms. Inside and Ocasio-Cortez is Ms. Outside. Pelosi is a shrewd and skilled political player. Ocasio-Cortez, already known simply as “AOC,” can work around the power structure because she commands the media like no other House member can. Between the two of them, they cover a lot of ground.

{mosads}The Speaker’s contributions are manifest. She stonewalled the president’s obsession with bricks and mortar border security. While I watched President Trump’s televised speech folding on his beloved wall, I imagined Pelosi just off camera holding a gun to his head while he announced his concession. Teddy Roosevelt had his bully pulpit. Well,Trump is just a bully. Trump tried to face Pelosi down but she stood up to him and forced him to cave.

The president owned casinos so he should have known the house always wins. Trump underestimated Pelosi’s steely resolve but he should have known better. While she was House Minority Leader in the first half of Trump’s term, he failed to get a single Democratic vote in the House for his two most important legislative initiatives TrumpCare and his tax plan.

Pelosi has already introduced comprehensive plans to fight government corruption and to reduce gun violence. These initiatives should please the progressive wing of her caucus but there might be a fight over health care. AOC and other progressive Democrats favor a single-payer plan like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) Medicare for All proposal while the Speaker will probably opt for a more limited plan that restores the vitality of ObamaCare law undermined by the actions of the Trump administration. Pelosi’s effort to broker a resolution to this conflict will be a true test of her political skills.

Critics have demanded for years that Democrats stand tall and go toe-to-toe with right-wing Republicans. Now they have stand-up Democrats like Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez to do the job. Both women are tough as nails. They bring different but complementary skill sets to the table. 

The president found out the hard way that experience still matters in Washington. Pelosi is as experienced as anybody can be. Trump is a babe in the wild ways of Washington. AOC doesn’t have much experience but she has plenty of energy and she can channel the enthusiasm of the millennials who are the rising force in national politics.

AOC is a breath of fresh air in the fetid Washington swamp. She shares the public’s distaste for established economic and political power. No one should dismiss the representative from New York City as an extremist when she represents a national constituency of Americans who believe that government and the economy are rigged against working families.

She caused a major ruckus recently when she called for a 70 percent marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. But most voters believe the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes and that the 2017 Trump tax scam favored corporations and wealthy Americans at the expense of working families. 

Data from a national Gallup survey conducted last year demonstrated the public’s concern with tax fairness. Two of every three Americans indicated that they felt corporations (66 percent) and upper-income Americans (62 percent) paid too little in federal income taxes. 

The marginal tax rate was higher than 70 percent under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower but somehow her proposal makes Ocasio-Cortez a radical. If she is a radical so are a majority of Americans.

Pelosi and AOC both want to repair the damage from the disastrous Trump tax law that lowered taxes for corporate America and raised the national debt to record levels. The Trump tax plan cheated middle-class Americans of their right to significant tax relief. Worse, it gave the GOP an excuse to call for cuts in Social Security and Medicare to bail the nation out from the deficit that Republicans themselves created.

{mossecondads}AOC will not get anything close to a 70 percent marginal tax rate with a GOP president and Senate. But her proposal gives Pelosi leverage in her battle to reduce the tax burden on working families. The Speaker can tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that she would like to accept his compromise but he’ll need to sweeten it so she can satisfy the demands of AOC and the other young progressives in the House Democratic Caucus.

Pelosi and Ocasio represent the two wings of the Democratic Party. But a bird needs both wings to fly. Both congresswomen want to fight corruption, improve health care coverage and to reduce income inequality. There are differences in opinion on the means to deal with these problems. The two Democrats and their supporters have their differences but if everybody focuses on their common concerns, they will accomplish a lot and lay the groundwork for a big Democratic victory in 2020 which will allow them to do even more with a Democratic President and Senate.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at, a social media network for politics.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez AOC Bernie Sanders Brad Bannon Congress House Speaker Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi White House

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