Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AP/Jae C. Hong)

Some Democrats in the House express their frustrations with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the record

Will the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist unite Democrats, or is she destined for a lonely career in Congress?


Shira Tarlo
January 11, 2019 7:57PM (UTC)

Veteran Democrats in Congress went on the record to express frustration with newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the youngest woman ever elected to their ranks, and her vow to back primary challengers against party incumbents; her supporters' demand that she have a powerful House committee seat; and her opposition to the Democratic rules package during her first days in office.

In a report published Friday by Politico, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Miss.) said,"I'm sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there's almost an outstanding rule: Don't attack your own people."

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Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a fellow Democrat from New York, said, "Washington is a political animal where a lot of the work that you want to accomplish depends on relationships within the Democratic Caucus. The honeymoon between the voters that you represent and yourself could be a short one. People want to see results," while Rep. Yvette Clarke, another New York Democrat, said Ocasio-Cortez "needs to give herself an opportunity to know her colleagues and to give herself a sense of the chemistry of the body before passing judgment on anyone or anything."

"She's new here, feeling her way around," Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) added of Ocasio-Cortez. "She doesn't understand how the place works yet."

The criticism provoked immediate backlash from Ocasio-Cortez's supporters, including from her new chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti.

"The Democratic Party and the King of England have surprisingly similar reactions to democracy when their own power is threatened," tweeted Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff.

Some Democrats have expressed frustration that Ocasio-Cortez has asked for positions on powerful committees, including Ways and Means.

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"It totally pissed off everyone," a senior House Democrat told Politico of the demand. "You don't get picked for committees by who your grass-roots [supporters] are."

Others criticized Ocasio-Cortez's use of Twitter. The freshman congresswoman, who labels herself as a Democratic socialist, is known for frequently chastising critics and sometimes fellow Democrats on the social media site — actions that prompted some of her colleagues in Congress to draw a comparison between her use of Twitter to President Donald Trump's. "Just as congressional Republicans constantly withhold criticism of the president out of fear he'll unleash a tweet at them, some Democrats have done the same with Ocasio-Cortez," Politico reported.

Chakbrabarti, meanwhile, blasted lawmakers for allegedly "planting" their criticism in the news outlet, instead of focusing on doing their jobs.

"I wish our Congress was as effective at organizing around legislation as they seem to be in organizing big money and planting crap stories in Politico," he wrote. "Bullsh*t like this is why people have no faith in Congress doing its job — because it doesn't."

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Other Ocasio-Cortez supporters slammed the criticism as both sexist and ageist.

"The 'know your place, little girl' rhetoric is something that many young women have heard before. It comes from a place of misogyny, ageism, and pure jealousy," Refinery29 contributor Lily Herman tweeted Friday morning. "Best of luck to all the Dems who went on the record with their condescending remarks in this piece."

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Cristóbal J. Alex, the president of the Latino Victory Fund, tweeted, "Let me try and save folks some time here. You cannot rein in Latinas. They rein you in."

"Imagine being *mad* that the public face of your political party is a young, dynamic, charismatic woman with a throng of devoted followers," politics writer Jamelle Bouie added on Twitter.

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According to Politico, Democratic lawmakers are particularly upset about Ocasio-Cortez's threat to support primary challengers against incumbent Democrats who she purportedly believes are too moderate. In a call last November with activists, Chakrabarti said, "We got to primary folks." However, Ocasio-Cortez, who has emerged as a national progressive firebrand, has made it clear that she is only interested in supporting challengers to Democrats in safe blue districts.

On Friday morning, Justice Democrats, the progressive group that helped elect Ocasio-Cortez, announced its first primary target ahead of the 2020 congressional primaries: Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.


Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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