With primaries more than a year away, N.Y. Dem leader warns AOC: Don't challenge Schumer

State party chair says a potential AOC primary bid against Schumer would be driven by "ambition," not principle

By Julia Conley
December 29, 2020 10:00AM (UTC)
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Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared at Common Dreams. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

With more than a year to go until Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer faces a potential primary challenge for the seat he's held for nearly two decades in New York, the state's Democratic leadership is already expressing concern that progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may run against him.

In an interview with the New York Post, state Democratic Committee chair Jay Jacobs said Saturday that a challenge by Ocasio-Cortez would be driven more by the congresswoman's "ambition" than a need for new representation for New York in the U.S. Senate.

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"She has a constituency that admires her and supports her, and they're in her community, and I think it would be a loss for them if she were to do that," Jacobs told the Post, despite the fact that Ocasio-Cortez's current constituents in the Bronx and Queens would still be represented by her in the upper chamber should she win Schumer's seat. 

Ocasio-Cortez has not directly expressed a desire to challenge the four-term senator, but has been vocal since she first ran for office in 2018 about her belief that the Democratic Party must better represent working people by embracing policy proposals that Schumer and other centrists reject. 

Earlier this month, the congresswoman told The Intercept that while she was "not ready" to take over the role of House speaker from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, she believes "we need new leadership in the Democratic Party."

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She directly criticized establishment Democrats' embrace of the Affordable Care Act and their insistence that the law — which has left nearly 30 million Americans uninsured and health care spending on the rise — should be "strengthened" instead of replaced with Medicare for All. 

"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 told The Intercept in discussing how and why she decided to run for Congress in 2018. "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." 

Although Jacobs described Schumer as "a progressive force," he has not embraced Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All proposal. Recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation has shown that 87% of Democratic voters and 63% of independents have a positive view of the term "Medicare for All," and 53% of the public favors expanding Medicare to all Americans under a national health care plan. 

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Jacobs' comments and other efforts by establishment Democrats to discourage Ocasio-Cortez's political ambitions only serve to divide the party, tweeted grassroots organization Our Revolution. 

"The Establishment should embrace progressive ideas that over 85% of Democrats already support!" the group said. 

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In an interview with Vanity Fair in October, Ocasio-Cortez said that while she doesn't believe she is "going to be staying in the House forever," she aims to assess where "can be more effective" before running for a Senate seat or filling a cabinet position. 

"I don't see myself really staying where I'm at for the rest of my life," she told the magazine. "I don't want to aspire to a quote-unquote higher position just for the sake of that title or just for the sake of having a different or higher position. I truly make an assessment to see if I can be more effective. And so, you know, I don't know if I could necessarily be more effective in an administration, but, for me that's always what the question comes down to."

Oliver Willis of the American Independent noted that the Democratic Party's underestimation of Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, when she challenged powerful nine-term congressman Joe Crowley, is now being repeated by her detractors, including Jacobs. 

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Others on social media wrote that considering Ocasio-Cortez's national profile and her strong support for numerous popular policies — including Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and tuition-free public college — the congresswoman would have a strong chance of defeating Schumer.

"The AOC stan army would move en masse across state lines to knock doors before Schumer's consultants could formulate a tweet about his support of the public option," tweeted Winnie Wong, a former adviser to Sanders' presidential campaign.


Julia Conley

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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