Senate Democrats Frustrated Over Ocasio-Cortez Becoming Face of Democratic Party

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez / Getty Images
January 15, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), who was sworn into Congress for the first time less than two weeks ago, is already facing scrutiny from some Democratic senators who say her views don't represent those of their constituents.

Over the course of the last couple weeks, Ocasio-Cortez has accused Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, of "death," castigated the media and fact checkers for their coverage of her, and proposed a 70 percent tax rate for the wealthy. Centrist Democrats are worried about the party adopting these and other controversial positions for their platform, saying it will hurt their chances for reelection in upcoming races, the Hill reports.

Democrats have to pick up at least three seats in 2020 to gain control of the Senate, so they will focus on winning in centrist or Republican-leaning states like Alabama, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and North Carolina. Some of the bipartisan issues Democrats would prefer to focus on in those states include helping veterans, lowering health care costs, and focusing on the federal deficit, but Ocasio-Cortez is driving the party to focus on other issues, according to some lawmakers.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), who faces a competitive reelection in 2020, said Ocasio-Cortez's "views don’t represent a lot of my constituents."

Sen. Doug Jones (D., Ala.), one of the most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2020, said he's not happy Ocasio-Cortez is becoming a sort of spokesperson for the party, saying, "I think it skews what’s really there for the Democratic Party."

"If the House did all the crazy things on the left that the House did on the right for the last two years, that’s not going to happen," he said, referencing the prospect of getting reforms enacted into law. He also mentioned he was focused on a much less ambitious agenda than the New York Democrat, who has likened herself to former President Franklin Roosevelt and his historic New Deal.

"I’m going to continue to focus on HBCUs, health care, rural health care and the tariff is still going to be a big issue for us," Jones added.

The criticism from Senate Democrats follows frustration from their colleagues in the House who began questioning Ocasio-Cortez's staying power last summer after she upset then-Rep. Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.) in the Democratic primary. Many lawmakers publicly advised her to work with House incumbents.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D., Fla.) said last summer that "Meteors fizz out. What she will learn in this institution is that it’s glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who won reelection in a state President Donald Trump won by 42 points, echoed Jones' sentiment, saying that while liberals in the party might be getting widespread media attention now, it will be the centrist Democrats who get bills passed into law.

"They’ll all find out, if you want to get something done, you got to work together. If they want someone to get something to done, I’ll be happy to do it," Manchin said.

Ocasio-Cortez has not held back from criticizing Trump, but centrist Democrats have warned the approach isn't a recipe for victory in 2020.

Former Sens. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.), who both lost during the 2018 midterms, expressed concern "Trump bashing" will hurt Democrats' chances of taking back the Senate and defeating Trump in 2020.

"I worry that the Democrats are majoring in Trump bashing. And we’ll have to do more than that in order to win the confidence of enough Americans to regain the Senate and importantly the presidency," McCaskill said.

"There’s perception and there’s reality. The reality is so much of the hard work was done by people like Abby Spanberger in Virginia, who did a wonderful job in her campaign," Donnelly said in an interview during one of his last days in office. "That’s how we bring America together."

Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti hit back at Democrats in the House last week who criticized her tendency to butt heads with members of her own party. Chakrabarti compared them to King George III during the American Revolution, and he approvingly shared a tweet comparing them to people who opposed civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s.