Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warns ‘out-of-touch’ Democrats will face primary challenges that she backs

"We will be able to tell our grandchildren that we fought for what’s right."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally in Brooklyn, New York on September 8, 2018. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally in Brooklyn, New York on September 8, 2018. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been making waves in Washington, D.C. even though the new Democratic House majority won’t be seated until January.

The 29-year-old Democratic socialist, who will be the youngest-ever congresswoman, joined protesters in the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday to push for a “Green New Deal” to address the urgent threat of climate change. Pelosi, the expected next House Speaker, reaffirmed her support for a select committee on climate change that Republicans discontinued when they regained control of the chamber in 2011.

However, not all Democrats are on board with these more aggressive environmental actions. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who is slated to become the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told protesters that the reinstatement of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy that could delay meaningful legislation. Pallone also declined to take a pledge to refuse donations from fossil fuel companies.


Sludge’s Alex Kotch noted that the Democrats who have expressed opposition to a “Green New Deal,” which would aim to make the U.S. 100 percent reliant on clean energy in a decade, have been recipients of large donations from fossil fuel advocates during the 2018 election cycle. Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), and Pallone all took at least five-figures from fossil fuel PACs or employees in recent years.

Ocasio-Cortez, whose stunning upset of longtime Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in June’s primary shook the political establishment, is putting Democrats who aren’t showing sufficient urgency to tackle climate change on notice. The congresswoman-elect warned on Saturday that she will back primary challenges to incumbent Democrats who aren’t getting the job done.

Citing the need for politicians to stop accepting donations from the fossil fuel industry as part of the proposed “Green New Deal,” Ocasio-Cortez told Justice Democrats, a progressive advocacy group with ties to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2016 presidential campaign, that colleagues basically need to get with the program or make way for lawmakers who will eschew money from fossil fuel interests.

“All Americans know money in politics is a huge problem, but unfortunately the way that we fix it is by demanding that our incumbents give it up or by running fierce campaigns ourselves.”

Justice Democrats, which “recruited and supported Ocasio-Cortez” also backed Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) in her upset of longtime Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA). In their September primary, Capuano’s corporate donations became a focus of the campaign. According to Justice Democrats’ executive director, they can “repeat the playbook” across the country. “There’s lots of blue districts in this country where communities want to support a new generation of diverse working-class leaders who fight tirelessly for their voters and build a movement around big solutions to our country’s biggest problems.”


The progressive group’s website promotes “taking on out-of-touch incumbents in primary challenges because we don’t need to just elect more Democrats, we need to elect better Democrats.”

Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez told activists to ignore any criticism of their focus on climate change.

“Know that they will come after you and that that’s okay because at the end of the day, when you are on the right side of that long arc of history that bends toward justice, we will be able to tell our grandchildren that we fought for what’s right.”

The congresswoman-elect also made it clear that she doesn’t fear possible repercussions for speaking out against fellow colleagues.

“If I made people mad, they could have put me on the dog-walking committee or whatever. They still might. But I knew that it was worth it.”

10 House Democrats have signed onto the plan for a “Green New Deal,” including Reps. John Lewis (GA) and Jared Huffman (CA), and Reps.-elect Deb Haaland (NM), Joe Neguse (CO), and Rashida Tlaib (MI).

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) has urged Pelosi to make Ocasio-Cortez the chairwoman of the select committee on climate change, noting, “We need to shake up Congress & give the millennial generation a chance to lead. They have the most at stake re climate change.”