Nancy Pelosi just cannot stop dismissing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Since before Ocasio-Cortez actually took office, the Speaker of the House hasn’t missed an opportunity to get in a not-so-subtle dig at her freshman New York colleague, who’s helped bring a burst of interest in the Democratic left through her youth, energy, and advocacy for the Green New Deal; just as one example, Pelosi trashed the GND on the day it came out as the “green dream or whatever they call it,” adding, “nobody knows what it is but they’re for it, right?”
The latest example came on Sunday night during a Pelosi interview with 60 Minutes:
If Pelosi was truly enamored with going “down the mainstream,” she might be more supportive of Medicare for All, which polls have shown time and again to have the support of a majority of people and is supported by 108 Democrats in the House (as opposed to “like five people”), rather than have her office take every opportunity it can to reassure the health insurance industry that Medicare for All will never happen.
But this is a matter of policy. Pelosi’s one-sided beef with Ocasio-Cortez is not solely based in their policy differences. It’s also rooted in power and seniority.
While one common criticism is that AOC and others are hogging all of the media attention from a large, diverse freshman class—debatable, as fellow freshmen like Katie Hill and Max Rose constantly get press—the core of the problem is that Ocasio-Cortez simply has not waited her turn, or received the leadership’s permission, to be an active voice in Congress. A month into her first term, she was the lead sponsor on the Green New Deal, which quickly became a standard that Democratic presidential candidates are measured on. She’s vocally criticized other, more conservative members of the caucus, and stressed the need for primary challenges. She’s even taken on other members of the leadership, such as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Cheri Bustos.
Pelosi has been mostly insulated from all of these criticisms. From the day after the last election, Ocasio-Cortez and pretty much everyone on the left flank of the Democratic House caucus has consciously avoided directly criticizing her every step of the way, even on issues of real ideological disagreement with the Democratic leadership, including over the budget and on crucial measures governing the rules of House legislation. Not only that, but Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly and actively defended Pelosi against attacks from her right, including during the Seth Moulton-led non-rebellion against Pelosi’s speakership in November.
Pelosi, whose office told Splinter last month that she was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, likely has more in common with Ocasio-Cortez politically than with her fiercest moderate and conservative critics in the party. Despite all of this, the good feelings haven’t gone both ways; Pelosi has continued to dismiss Ocasio-Cortez and her ideas in favor of other Democratic members who won seats in swing districts.
It calls to mind an anecdote from the early days of the Obama administration, in which, according to Bob Woodward, Pelosi hit the mute button on Barack Obama—another politician who was viewed with skepticism for not waiting his turn—during a conference call about the stimulus. (Pelosi denied ever doing this.)
What all of this shows is the limits of working within structures as archaic as the Democratic Party and Congress itself. We simply don’t have the time to wait around for Ocasio-Cortez to serve the requisite four or five terms in Congress before she’s given approval to speak up on important issues. Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t have all of the answers when it comes to things like climate change and systemic inequality, but her ideas get us a hell of a lot closer to them than any of the tinkering around the edges bullshit that’s coming from some of her fellow lawmakers.
If Pelosi had the same sense of urgency, maybe she’d be a little less eager to openly deride one of the best things her party has going for it right now. Unfortunately, her biggest priority seems to be the protecting the institution from which she draws all of her power.