AOC Gets Headlines but Showdown Is Coming With Moderate Dems

April 1, 2019 Updated: April 1, 2019

WASHINGTON—Insurgent Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) still dazzles star-struck mainstream journalists, but a showdown is coming with centrist Democrats who seek a different future for their party.

The first signs of such conflict on the political horizon first became clear three weeks ago, when two key AFL-CIO union leaders announced their opposition to the Green New Deal, the climate change proposal most closely associated with Ocasio-Cortez (aka “AOC”).

“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families,” Cecil Roberts and Lonnie Stephenson wrote in a March 8 letter to Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Roberts is president of the United Mine Workers of America, while Stephenson leads the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. They wrote as spokesmen for the labor giant’s energy policy committee.

Things heated up March 23, when freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), whose Staten Island district borders Ocasio-Cortez’s, issued an invitation to “anyone who considers themselves a socialist anywhere in New York, or any Justice Democrat, a formal invitation to come primary me. We can settle this at the polls.”

Rose was responding to Ocasio-Cortez’s promise to field primary challengers to Democratic incumbents opposing her Green New Deal.

Ocasio-Cortez’s threat prompted Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials to warn the party’s legion of consultants against helping her anti-incumbent effort.

Tensions mounted again last week when moderate Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee rebelled against the $15 minimum wage proposal of the panel’s chairman, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).

Scott’s version of the bill hikes the minimum wage nationally, but moderates such as Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst, former NFL player Rep. Collin Allred (D-Texas), and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said they couldn’t support the proposal unless it allowed regional exceptions to the $15 figure.

An unnamed Democrat told Politico that Scott’s bill could fail on the House floor, thanks to opposition from moderates, sometimes known as “Blue Dog Democrats.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a press conference
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference at the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Blue Dogs’ Clout

Campaign and communications experts from both parties see the growing tension between Democratic progressives and moderates in remarkably similar and pragmatic terms.

Jim Manley, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s communications director, for example, told The Epoch Times that “despite all of the ink devoted to some of the newer members such as AOC, the fact is that a whole bunch of more centrist members won election last November.”

That means, Manley said, “that after seeing their ranks decimated in recent elections, the Blue Dogs have clout again, but how much they flex it remains to be seen.”

Manley expects issues like the minimum wage hike to be resolved by addressing the moderates’ worries. “There is clearly a deal to be had that involves something less than $15 an hour, paired with tax breaks for small businesses,” he said.

Jimmy Williams, former communications director for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), warned that, while “intra-party warfare is nothing new,” Democrats should stop laughing as they have “since 2009 at the rise of the Tea Party” on the Republican side.

“This idea that progressives will engage in some sort of political terrorism against their own party is rooted in the fact they can’t count to 217,” he said, referring to the minimum majority number.

“If you don’t have 217, nobody is going to give a hoot about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or any of the rest of the progressives, there won’t be any moderates and you won’t have the House majority.”

Williams said House Democrats should each focus on winning their own districts and “let everybody else run in their own districts.”

Beverly Halberg, a Washington-based communications expert, told The Epoch Times: “While many young people have a favorable opinion of socialism, the majority of the Democratic voting base knows that it doesn’t work.

“So, you have some Democrats who are willing to stand up against the socialist wave, not only because of their core constituents but also because they understand history and the dangers of socialism,” said Halberg.

Similarly, Texas GOP campaign consultant Matt Mackowiak said, “the problem that House Democrats face is their majority was built on more mainstream members getting elected in marginal seats, but the energy and fundraising is on the progressive wing.”

That creates a tricky political situation “on issues like the Green New Deal and a $15 minimum wage. Freshmen Democrats in tough seats need one thing and progressives demand another,” Mackowiak said.

With 31 House Democrats representing districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, the moderates likely have more leverage against progressives between now and November 2020 to sustain a winning effort against Trump.

And, as Williams noted, “the entire point of this exercise for Democrats is to get rid of Trump.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at