Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is concerned about the future of the Democratic Party’s leadership as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) inch closer to retirement, she said in an interview with The Intercept published on Wednedsay.
Ocasio-Cortez’s constructive criticism has little to do with any individual lawmaker’s competence, however. Rather, AOC sees a consolidation of party power with no one ready to takeover once Pelosi, Schumer, Hoyer, Clyburn, and other party heads begin to contemplate the conclusions of their careers.
Democrats lack “real grooming of a next generation of leadership,” AOC explained to reporter Jeremy Scahill. “If you create that vacuum, there are so many nefarious forces at play to fill that vacuum with something even worse.”
Pelosi is 80. Schumer is 70. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) is 81. Majority Whip James Clyburn (SC) is 80.
Likewise, President-Elect Joe Biden is 78, although he has the opportunity to cash in on respectably high personal approval ratings, as was demonstrated by his impressive seven-million vote victory over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
“A lot of this is not just about these two personalities, but also about the structural shifts that these two personalities have led in their time in leadership,” said the New York firebrand. “The structural shifts of power in the House, both in process and rule, to concentrate power in party leadership of both parties, frankly, but in Democratic Party leadership to such a degree that an individual member has far less power than they did 30, 40, 50 years ago.”
That chasm results in a roadblock to advancement within the party’s ranks, often leading to “really talented members of Congress that do come along” losing interest in swimming against the current.
In the mean time, Pelosi has indicated that this current term may be her last, “and the left isn’t really making a plan for that either,” the Congresswoman cautioned. “So I do think that it’s something that we really need to think about.”
AOC added that efforts by House Democrats to secure progressive policies amid leadership uncertainties “are currently negotiating to get and work towards real material concessions for the left that can move things into place, to help build power for the next two years.”
As far as who may succeed Pelosi as the next Speaker, should Democrats maintain their majority, Ocasio-Cortez said that she has neither the experience nor the interest in pursuing it herself.
“The House is extraordinarily complex and I’m not ready,” she said. “It can’t be me. I know that I couldn’t do that job.”
AOC also objected to Biden inviting former Wall Street executives and corporate tycoons to join his transition team and budding administration.
“It’s horrible,” she said.
“And I think it’s also part of a larger issue that we have right now, which is … the Biden administration is bringing back a lot of Obama appointees, which depending on where you are in the party, may sound nice, I guess,” said AOC. “But I think what a lot of people fail to remember is that we now have a Biden administration that’s bringing back a lot of Obama appointees, but when Obama was making appointments, he was bringing back a lot of Clinton appointees.”
Ocasio-Cortez believes that public frustration stemming from income inequality and perceived underrepresentation are “a huge reason why we got Donald Trump in the first place. In addition to just the racism that was waiting to be reanimated in this country, [there] was just an extreme disdain for this moneyed political establishment that rules Washington.”
And no wonder. OpenSecrets.org recently reported that half of Congress made up of millionaires, some of whom have fortunes of hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The top 10 percent of wealthiest lawmakers have three times more wealth than the bottom 90 percent,” OpenSecrets noted.
The wealth disparity between elected officials and their constituents is an issue which both political parties are going to have to address, especially amid a stalled economy and soaring poverty.
“The leaders of both chambers make the top 10 list. Pelosi has seen her wealth increase to nearly $115 million from $41 million in 2004, the first year OpenSecrets began tracking personal finances,” OpenSecrets wrote. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saw his net worth increase from $3 million to over $34 million during that time. Both political leaders are married to affluent individuals who are driving those increases.”
The bottom line is that AOC wants the Democratic Party to return to unequivocally defending and championing the needs of working class Americans, causes which for decades it has defined itself. But in order for that to happen, the old guard must be willing to stand down and “pass the torch,” as Biden said to then-Senator Al Gore during a 1988 Democratic primary debate.
“For me personally, it was when I was waitressing and I would hear Democrats talk about why the Affordable Care Act was so amazing all the time and how this is the greatest thing ever and the economy is doing wonderfully,” she said. “Frankly, it is the same trick that Trump pulls, which is, you know, people touting the Dow as a measure of economic success when we’re all getting killed out here.”
Thirty-five days until the election.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.