- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a matter of weeks, has gone from being a little-known activist to a liberal sensation and highly sought-after national figure after riding a Bernie Sanders-inspired anti-establishment message to a stunning victory over Rep. Joe Crowley in New York City.

The 28-year-old self-identified socialist also has miffed some Democrats with her support of primary challengers to incumbents, her assertion that Mr. Crowley was scheming to keep his House seat, and her charge that the party must pursue a more aggressively left-wing agenda, which moderates fear could dent their chances of taking control of the House in the midterm elections.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory “seems likely to hurt Congress, America, and the Democratic Party” and urging Mr. Crowley to go all-in on a third party bid.

“Because the policies Ms. Ocasio-Cortez advocates are so far from the mainstream, her election in November would make it harder for Congress to stop fighting and starting fixing problems,” said Mr. Lieberman, the party’s 2000 vice-presidential nominee, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“Republicans are calling Ms. Ocasio-Cortez the ‘new face’ of the Democratic Party,” Mr. Lieberman wrote, adding that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been smart to downplay Ms. Ocasio-Cortez rise as a single event.

“She knows that if Democrats are to regain a majority, it will be by winning swing districts with sensible mainstream candidates. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is making that task harder across America,” he wrote.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her allies dismissed the recent criticism.

“The establishment is going to be the establishment,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America. “They are going to try to stomp on anyone who is running on robust inclusive populist agenda that people are hungry for and challenging their stanglehold on power.”

At an event Wednesday afternoon in New York for Mic’s new Facebook Watch program Mic Dispatch, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez herself was asked why Mr. Lieberman’s op-ed was wrong.

According to the New York Times, she replied “because I got elected,” prompting applause from the crowd.

“With all due respect to former Sen. Lieberman,” she added, “he’s the one that killed the public option in the United States,” referring to his insisting during the Obamacare debate that it not include a direct government-as-insurer program, which he denounced as a step toward socialized medicine.

The warning from Mr. Lieberman, a staunch supporter of Israel during his time in Congress, followed an interview on PBS where Ms. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned the “occupation of Palestine” during a discussion of Israel.

Asked to expound, she said, “What I meant is like the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing and homes.”

“I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “I just look at things through a human rights lens and I may not use the right words … Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night.”

At Wednesday’s Mic Dispatch show, where she appeared alongside actress and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, she downplayed her flubs further and blamed the fuss on the “alt-right.”

“I thought it was funny because the alt-right went haywire after that,” she said, adding that people didn’t know how to react to a candidate admitting to a lack of expertise. “What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?” she said ironically.

Rep. Lacy Clay, whose primary challenger Cori Bush won Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, said the initial interview on PBS’s new “Firing Line” program exposed how the political newcomer and other insurgents “are not well-versed on the issues and the subjects that we deal with here in Congress.”

“They are not well versed at all and I think it highlights the differences between people like myself who are progressive Democrats who have a record of results versus a Democratic Socialist who rely heavily on soundbytes with no substance, and no record of results and no pathway to get to real solutions up here,” Mr. Clay said.

With Ms. Ocasio-Cortez scheduled to campaign with his opponent, Mr. Clay said what happened in the Big Apple won’t happen in his political backyard.

“St. Louis, Missouri is not the Bronx, New York,” he said.

Others defended Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, said she deserves more time to grow into her role as a political leader and advised against playing “gotcha politics on every interview.”

“I think it is important that we have new views and young voices of people who have passion,” Mr. Khanna said. “Let her find her voice. We know her heart is in the right place.”

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is getting pulled in many directions.

“The thing that got her elected was her as a person and her independence and I think she has got to back to that — to her roots,” the New Mexico Democrat said. “Right now everybody wants to have a piece of her — for good or bad.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez vowed on the campaign trail to fight for Medicare-for-all, free college tuition, and legalizing marijuana, as well as doing away with ICE and overhauling the criminal justice system.

On Friday, she is slated to hit the campaign trail with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Kansas, where they will got to bat for a pair of candidates — James Thompson and Brent Welder — running for GOP held seats.

In other primary races, she’s backing Ayanna Pressley over Rep. Mike Capuano in the Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District and Chardo Richardson over Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. On the Senate side, she is backing Sen. Tom Carper’s primary opponent in Delaware, Kerri Harris.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings of Florida said he hopes Ms. Ocasio-Cortez realizes that Congress moves at a “glacial” pace and that her support of primary challengers could hurt her ability to forge the sort of relationships she will need to advance her ideas.

“It serves no useful purpose for new or old people to go after incumbents, and I have serious reservations about that kind of belief,” Mr. Hastings said. “Now remember this young lady got 16,000 votes. The last time I looked that ain’t no helluva explosion.”

“But the folks in the media like this stuff,” he said. “My mom says, ‘People like mess.’ “

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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