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Establishment Democrats Are Trying to Unseat Ocasio-Cortez

Some Democrats are trying to recruit a challenger to make Ocasio-Cortez a “one-term congresswoman.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Senate chamber on January 24, 2019, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Democrats are already trying to unseat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Scott Wong at The Hill first reported that at least one House Democrat is trying to recruit someone from the Bronx or Queens to run against Ocasio-Cortez in a primary to make her a “one-term congresswoman.” The report exposes the unwillingness of established Democrats to share power with a younger generation seeking to seed more radical and diverse voices in Congress.

The unnamed congressmember portrayed the move as a punitive measure, latching onto the idea that Ocasio-Cortez snatched the House seat away from incumbent Joe Crowley and the party machine. “You’ve got numerous council people and state legislators who’ve been waiting 20 years for that seat,” the congressmember said. “I’m sure they can find numerous people who want that seat in that district.”

Already three potential opposition candidates have made it clear that they would not seek a primary challenge against Ocasio-Cortez, with one commenting that the plan was just gossip. Whether or not Democrats have made efforts behind the scenes, it’s clear they’re still nursing the sting of a shock defeat.

It’s the latest effort designed to weaken Ocasio-Cortez’s momentum, portraying her as a rogue agent weakening the party. The effort also reflects the establishment’s larger fear of Justice Democrats, the group battling political inertia by backing progressive primary candidates, including Ocasio-Cortez. Pundits have also remarked on the potential for these new progressive lawmakers to form a “Tea Party of the left” — a foil for the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican bloc of ultra-conservative representatives who have forcefully driven the GOP to the right.

In her short time in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has organized several stunts, leading a protest over climate change and a search for a craven Senate Majority Mitch McConnell during the shutdown. Yet she has also demonstrated her willingness to work for the interest of the party. As infighting raged over Nancy Pelosi’s speakership, Ocasio-Cortez supported Pelosi in the face of challenges coming from more conservative Democrats. Post-shutdown, she hit back against the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), eliciting a patronizing response from Meadows that makes a nice complement to the GOP’s sexist attempts to discredit her.

Despite constant media reports about her outspoken nature, she’s proven to be courteous and cooperative with her colleagues. In response to The Hill’s report on Democrats attempting to unseat Ocasio-Cortez, fellow New York Rep. Gregory Meeks commented, “I can only tell you that the times I’ve spoken to her, and at the times she’s been at the New York delegation meetings, she’s been cooperative and wants to be a team player. That’s what she said, so you gotta take her at her word until something changes.” Behind closed doors, aides have described Ocasio-Cortez as “respectful to members and constructive in internal debates.”

This hasn’t stopped others from capitalizing on the attention afforded by the media frenzy over Ocasio-Cortez. Billionaire Howard Schultz spun his potential presidential run in reference to her proposed 70 percent marginal tax rate (incorrectly, one might add, calling it a 70 percent income tax). Many have pointed out that Schultz’s opposition to government spending rings especially false because he himself grew up in public housing when the marginal tax rate was 90 percent.

Despite the reported popularity of Ocasio-Cortez’s marginal tax rate proposal, Schultz’s description of her comments about billionaires as “un-American” have set up a distracting and regressive ideological debate about what it means to succeed as an American. A decade after financial elites wrecked the economy; Schultz is making a brazen argument for the pursuit of unfettered wealth.

Schultz’s first entrée into politics drew immediate backlash from Democrats afraid that he will splinter the vote. His platform dampens what should be a bold movement for the party, which seems to have reached a consensus on embracing a more progressive agenda. Senior Democrats vying for the nomination have floated various progressive economic solutions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders — whose 2015 presidential primary made enormous strides in normalizing far-left policies — released his plan to introduce higher estate tax rates on the US’s 588 billionaires, who represent 0.2 percent of the population. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has touted a 50 percent wealth tax on households with a net worth of $50 million or more. Schultz dismissed this as a stunt for a headline or tweet — perhaps another veiled insult aimed at Ocasio-Cortez.

Whether by party insiders or outsiders, singling out Ocasio-Cortez appears to be a calibrated effort aimed at quashing the younger generation’s attempt to shake up the traditional mold of politics. It’s a perplexing response given her popularity both politically and personally, and the abysmally low approval ratings of Congress. It reeks of jealousy and sexism, as Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, suggested.

At a deeper level, Ocasio-Cortez is provoking the kneejerk response of any entrenched politician, whether Democrat or Republican, too cozy in their perch to entertain the slightest suggestion of evolving at more than an incremental pace.

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