On a trip to the U.K. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi dismissed the idea of democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) being representative of the Democratic Party.
Pelosi addressed questions about how to handle the left wing of her party in the House during a talk with London School of Economics and Political Science, and she said Ocasio-Cortez needs to understand she cannot set the agenda. She implied Ocasio-Cortez is failing to appreciate how Democrats need to appeal to the rest of the country, saying the freshman congresswoman's district could be won by any purported Democrat—living or otherwise.
"This glass of water would win with a ‘D' next to its name in those districts," Pelosi said. "Not to diminish the exuberance and the personality and the rest of Alexandria and the other members."
Pelosi was talking about the progressive leaders in her caucus—Reps. Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), and Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.)—and how they did not win back the House so much as moderates did by winning back swing districts.
"We're talking about three that were getting a good deal of press on it, but the 43 districts—we won 43, net gain of 40—were right down the middle," Pelosi said.
Progressive calls for single-payer health care, sweeping environmental regulations through the Green New Deal, and much more have dominated headlines in matters of policy since the new Congress was sworn in. Many 2020 presidential candidates who are established Democratic leaders have signed onto some of these radical proposals, even as some of them are not fully fleshed out.
Pelosi said she used to support some of the same aggressive agenda items, such as single-payer healthcare, but argued Democrats cannot win if they lead with an activist message. She has the same activist values as the members on the left but as she has gotten older she has tempered her expectations on what can be achieved.
"I said to them, anything you are about, I’ve got that sign in my basement 25 years ago," Pelosi said, naming single-payer in particular. "Been there, done that. So, I share those values but we must win."
She called for "a message that appeals to people in a way that doesn't menace them, that really does address their concerns," in order to get political power back and then move the country to the left.
"When we win and have the White House and we have that, then we can expand our exuberances to some other things. Our progressive message is down the middle, but it is, again, addressing the concerns of America's working families," she said.
"This is about winning," Pelosi said. "When we have to go into the districts we have to win, we have to cull that to what we have in common with those people."
Pelosi admitted she also has no trouble in her San Francisco district, which is one of the most liberal parts of the country.
"When we won this election, it wasn't in districts like mine or Alexandria’s," she said.