New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not happy with her party.
She made that abundantly clear in an interview with The New York Times over the weekend, suggesting that the passage of the infrastructure bill and the House approval of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” measure are simply not enough to deliver on the expectations voters have for her party. And she also aptly diagnosed much of her party’s current political problems.
“Democrats have a trifecta and have been unable to pass voting-rights protections,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And so people can wring their hands and say ‘but Manchin’ all they want, or ‘but the filibuster’ all they want, but at the end of the day, what people see are the results of their actions and the results of investing their time.”
I think that’s exactly right.
The average voter likely knows one thing about our current politics: Democrats are in control of the White House, the Senate and the House. They are far less familiar with the narrowness of the Democratic majorities in those two chambers. Or with the filibuster rules that prevent any legislation from moving forward without 60 votes.
That’s not for a lack of trying by Biden, of course. He explicitly made the point about the narrowness of Democrats’ margin in the Senate during a CNN townhall late last month. “When you’re in the United States Senate and you’re President of the United States and you have 50 Democrats, every one is a president,” Biden said to laughter. “Every single one.”
The reality, however, is closer to AOC’s view. In voters’ minds, they handed Democrats the keys to the kingdom, and they haven’t been terribly happy with the results.
Almost 6 in 10 Americans said that Biden wasn’t focused enough on the nation’s biggest problems, according to a CNN poll released earlier this month. That same poll showed that among those who believe the economy is the most important issue facing the country, almost 3 in 4 are not happy with the amount of attention that Biden has paid to it.
While there is some broad agreement on the problem facing Democrats, the party diverges broadly on the solution.
The view of most establishment Democrats – including Biden and his White House – is that they need to focus more on selling all that they have done to voters.
“I think the White House should do 25 presidential events in the next couple months just on infrastructure,” said Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, earlier this month. “And we should do 1,000 congressional events alongside those presidential events.”
That is not the view of Ocasio-Cortez, however. Her belief is not that Democrats haven’t sold their accomplishments well enough but rather that the party has been too timid to push the envelope legislatively in ways that get the party’s base excited and engaged.
“I think that if we pass the Build Back Better Act as the House passed it, that we have a shot to go back to our communities and say we delivered,” said AOC. “But that’s not to say that this process has not been demoralizing for a lot of folks, because there were enormous promises made. Not just at the beginning, and not just during the election, but that continued to be made. And this is where I have sounded the alarm, because what really dampens turnout is when Democrats make promises that they don’t keep.”
If Ocasio-Cortez is right, the next few weeks/months hold little good for Democrats. The “Build Back Better” legislation is certain to be pared down in the Senate by the demands of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (among others). And then it will be sent back to the House for, effectively, a rubber stamp of approval – a move that seems certain to further alienate AOC and her liberal colleagues from the process.
Add it up and you get nothing good for Democrats as they try to find their footing ahead of the midterm battle for control of Congress.