WASHINGTON – About this time three years ago, newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was proudly joining climate protestors in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. This summer, the New York Democrat revved up hundreds of climate protesters gathered outside the White House – the one now occupied by President Joe Biden. Now, some four months later, the congresswoman known as AOC is part of a successful progressive revolt against business as usual at the Capitol, derailing – at least temporarily – an expansive infrastructure package aimed at infusing roughly a trillion dollars into the American economy.
Trust is on low supply in the nation’s capital these days, which has AOC and other progressives wary of a last-minute deal brokered between Biden and moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
“I think, right now, the crux is really just in two United States senators,” Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told The News Station while getting in a car outside the Capitol after the president’s newly brokered deal partially unraveled Thursday evening.
AOC and other progressives say they’ve already sacrificed enough in these negotiations over Biden and his fellow Democrats’ signature policy push — an effort that started at $3.5 trillion but that’s been whittled down to some $1.75 trillion in inter-party talks.
While there’s still trust there, progressives also say it’s time for Biden and Democratic senators to pony up.
“I think that there is an openness and willingness to negotiate,” Ocasio-Cortez told a gaggle of reporters waiting outside the Capitol, “but we need a little bit more than an IOU.”
While working House Democrats at the Capitol earlier Thursday, Biden tried to sell his sweeping infrastructure package – one already passed by the usually clogged Senate back in August – to the increasingly skeptical, progressive wing of his party.
“No one got everything they wanted, including me,” Biden told reporters in the White House before embarking to Rome. “But that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on.”
The presidential sales pitch failed.
Progressives remain dubious of Biden’s promise to deliver his end of the deal, which is to get the House to pass the Senate infrastructure bill, then trust individually powerful U.S. senators to keep their word and help pass the separate $1.75 trillion climate change and social safety net package.
The plan also relies on trusting that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is now suddenly a master of today’s impossible-to-maneuver Senate – one in which he’s lost round after round after round to now-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Progressives aren’t buying what Biden, Pelosi or Schumer are selling, even if they are working their party hard.
The left wing of the left say they’ve heard these promises from party leaders before. Lip-service alone is no longer enough for this emboldened, energetic and expanding wing of the party.
Unlike past protests, this one is in prime time. And, for now at least, progressives have stolen the spotlight from Biden, embarrassing him and his administration as he starts an overseas tour aimed at allaying allies’ fears that in the global fight against climate change the United States can only be counted on for more pollution, fossil fuels and perpetual gridlock.
That’s why progressives like AOC say this is nothing personal against Biden & Co. This time they’re protesting the Senate. Well, two senators to be exact. Both Democrats. One from Arizona, the other West Virginia.
But two Democrats who progressives see as more representative of the other side of the aisle than their own side these hyper-partisan halcyon days. While Manchin and Sinema’s names — and their laundry lists of conservative-tinged demands — now clap with more fury than most four-lettered words in progressive circles, House Democrats say all hope isn’t lost.
Progressives say they can be won over. They’re just demanding a seat at the table first. And the White House doesn’t seem home to Washington’s head table any longer, which is why House Democrats are dismissing assurances coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., even as Biden maintains their trust.
They know today’s Senate is where the power resides, which is why IOU’s – presidential or other — are currently not being accepted in the House of Representatives.
“I really think that we can come to a resolution very quickly. We have 96, 98% of the caucus all on the same page,” Ocasio-Cortez says. “We just need to figure out what these two folks are willing to commit to, and once we get real clarity on that – on what is a “yes” – then, I think, we’re going to move forward.”