Vulnerable New Mexico Democrat Condemns AOC for Cheering Decline of Oil Prices

'A champion for the working class should be a champion for all workers'

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
April 22, 2020

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) on Tuesday drew fire from a fellow freshman Democrat for cheering on the collapse of oil prices.

Ocasio-Cortez faced criticism Monday for a tweet in which she said "you absolutely love to see" plunging oil prices. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D., N.M.), whose district includes the oil-rich Permian Basin, admonished Ocasio-Cortez, accusing her of taking joy in an economic crash that could destroy the livelihoods of thousands of workers.

"A champion for the working class should be a champion for all workers," Torres Small said in a statement Tuesday. "In New Mexico, the working class is, in part, made up of tens of thousands of oil and gas workers who have worked hard every day to power our state and now stand to lose their livelihoods. No person should take joy in their suffering."

The rising prominence of far-left figures like Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic Party's liberal lurch create challenges for candidates like Torres Small. The New Mexico Democrat was narrowly elected in 2018 as a moderate in a conservative district after GOP incumbent Steve Pearce opted to run for governor. Republicans on the campaign trail have attempted to equate Torres Small with her national partymates. Claire Chase, a former energy sector worker and one of three candidates for the GOP nomination, said Torres Small's criticism means little if she continues to toe a party line that is hostile to oil and gas workers.

"I'm glad we were finally able to shame Xochitl Torres Small into offering an ounce of criticism for her radical party," Chase told the Washington Free Beacon. "Unfortunately, this muted criticism will be meaningless when Xochitl eventually endorses Joe Biden, who has vowed to ban oil drilling and bankrupt our state."

Chase had called on Torres Small to condemn Ocasio-Cortez's remarks Monday. She pointed to "over 100,000 New Mexico jobs" threatened by the dramatic drop in oil prices, which fell into negative territory for the first time in history. Following the bipartisan criticism, Ocasio-Cortez deleted her tweet celebrating the tumble, replacing it with a new tweet touting her $94 trillion Green New Deal.

"Now is the time to create millions of good jobs building out the infrastructure and clean energy necessary to save our planet for future generations," Ocasio-Cortez said. "For our economy, our planet, and our future, we need a Green New Deal."

Increased animosity from progressives toward the American oil industry could spell trouble for Democrats pitching themselves as moderates to swing-state voters. Biden in March said he would prevent oil companies from drilling as part of his effort to fight climate change following pressure from socialist senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). The Biden campaign walked back the controversial statement by saying Biden had "misspoken."

Chase, the former chair of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, will face former state legislator Yvette Herrell and businessman Chris Mathys in the district's Republican primary in June. She has outraised Herrell, who fell to Torres Small by less than 2 points in 2018, by more than $300,000. Torres Small did not draw a primary opponent.

Ocasio-Cortez did not respond to request for comment.