(Bloomberg) -- Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is holding off on endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate, but some left-leaning senators are already vying to tie their work to the progressive social-media star.
In the last week -- even as she drew consternation from some fellow House Democrats for a public spat with Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- the 29-year-old self-described Bronx Democratic Socialist introduced three new pieces of legislation with Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.
Ocasio-Cortez, in an interview, made it clear that they and others seeking a more exclusive endorsement will have to wait until next year.
“For me it always comes down to the policies and the initiatives,” added the first-term lawmaker, who said she’s particularly impressed by Sanders and Warren among the presidential contenders.
But she insisted she’s open to others, and she praised former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro after he said at last month’s Democratic debate that he wants to end criminal penalties for unauthorized migration across the southern U.S. border.
Sanders doesn’t necessarily have the inside track for Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, Ocasio-Cortez said, even though she volunteered for his 2016 campaign and has made more policy proposals with him this year than any other White House contender.
“I think that he’s definitely up there,” she said. “But I wouldn’t say that it’s a foregone conclusion. I just think there are a lot of fantastic candidates in the race.”
The wooing of Ocasio-Cortez by decades-older candidates reflects her appeal to the Democrats’ super-energized younger generation of voters. Her 4.7 million Twitter followers also mean she can create viral messages in the fight to knock President Donald Trump out of power.
Her outsized influence in the party is on frequent display. This week the lawmaker -- who is of Puerto Rican descent -- roiled the Capitol by accusing Pelosi of targeting “newly elected women of color” by being dismissive of her and three other liberal Democratic freshmen. The comments generated several days of news coverage and even Trump weighed in, telling reporters Friday that Ocasio-Cortez was “very disrespectful” of the speaker.
“I don’t think that Nancy can let that one go,” Trump said.
‘Green New Deal’
Ocasio-Cortez has been a sensation since she defeated Democratic Representative Joe Crowley, who was seen as a possible successor to Pelosi, in the 2018 House primary although he spent $3.4 million to her $207,000. She’s a lead sponsor of Democrats’ “Green New Deal” climate-change plan and a top advocate for a single-payer health plan, tuition-free public colleges and a $15 minimum wage.
The focus on her will soar further amid speculation about her endorsement, said Brian Fallon, who was a top campaign aide to 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He said her decision will have an influence on par with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, or any top 2020 contender who drops out and has a base of voters to help sway to someone else.
Despite her recent tussles with Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal to a handful of the candidates is becoming steadily more visible. These contenders benefit from a bit of political branding and are laying groundwork to compete for her backing.
“Even if Nancy Pelosi isn’t her biggest fan right now, the 2020 Democratic candidates can’t be associated enough with her,” Fallon said.
Some of her recent legislative efforts reflect that interest.
Earlier this week, Harris and Ocasio-Cortez introduced legislation to overhaul federal housing assistance guidelines and end what they call unfair eviction policies affecting people with criminal histories and their families. The legislation would ban “one-strike” policies that let tenants be evicted after committing just one crime, no matter how minor.
With Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill won’t go far, but it let Harris pair with the young progressive firebrand on a policy supported by core Democratic groups like the NAACP and the National Urban League.
With Warren and other lawmakers, Ocasio-Cortez introduced legislation requiring publicly owned companies to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks. The companies would have to report their greenhouse gas emissions, their “fossil-fuel-related assets,” and how their valuation would be affected if climate policies don’t change.
While Warren was the lead Senate sponsor, five other presidential contenders were on board: Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Sanders teamed up with Ocasio-Cortez this week to offer a non-binding resolution calling for “massive” government action to reverse climate change. The two earlier proposed capping rates on credit card and other consumer loans, and letting post offices offer basic financial services such as loans and checking accounts.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez also appeared together at an event in May organized by the Sunrise Movement, an outside group that backs the Green New Deal.
Republicans scoff at the efforts, saying Democratic contenders’ willingness to associate with the far-left Ocasio-Cortez will only help the GOP keep control of the White House and the Senate and win back the House in 2020.
“She’s a social media star, so I guess they like her reflected glory,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of the Senate GOP leadership team. “I don’t think anybody views her as a serious legislator and so there are some credibility risks.”
Ocasio-Cortez said she’s looking for a strong leftward lean in any candidate.
“What’s really in play is the actual power of working people in this country,” she said.
“There are some policies that are advanced to marginally improve people’s lives, and then I think there are other policies and other folks who are actually trying to shift the balance of power in the United States and shift it back to working people,” she said. “For me, that’s what I’m really looking for.”
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