Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, expanded 'Squad' demand Biden deliver on Green New Deal

Progressives are facing off with the New Democrat Coalition.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became an undisputed congressional star after her 2018 primary upset win followed by her championing of the Green New Deal, an ambitious legislative package to address climate change quickly dismissed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

AOC, the unofficial leader of the so-called Squad, has reinforcements in the coming next session of Congress, with Reps.-elect Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones and Cori Bush joining the push to address climate change – complicating Joe Biden’s presidency before it even begins.

In a preview, she and the rest of the Squad rallied outside the DNC headquarters on Thursday – firing the first shots of the intraparty civil war as they demanded the Biden deliver on his campaign pledge to enact climate justice – despite pressure from corporate lobbyists.

Ocasio-Cortez claims she’s secured a commitment from the president-elect on a $2 trillion climate plan – which may be more than Biden can deliver given the political divide on Capitol Hill.

A month ago, Biden said that he does not support the Green New Deal, though he has laid out his own plan for addressing climate change.

"My deal's a crucial framework but not the New Green Deal. The New Green Deal calls for elimination of all non-renewable energy by 2030. You can't get there," Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos during a town hall meeting in Philadelphia on Oct. 15. "You're going to need to be able to transition, George, to be able to transition to get to the place where we invest in new technologies that allow us to do things that get us to a place where we get to net zero emission, including in agriculture."

Ocasio-Cortez insists she isn't letting Biden off the hook.

“We're not going to forget about that agreement, for the sake of an election, are we? What we're gonna do is that we're going to organize and demand that this administration -- which I believe is decent, and kind and honorable -- keep their promise,” she said. “We know that we don't just make that demand and walk away. We have to organize for it. We have to bring the heat for it. Because there's a whole lot of people that tried to just shove a bunch of money before this election to try to buy their seat at the table, but we organized for ours.”

“They've got money, but we've got people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “At the end of the day, dollar bills don't vote, although they try to. We vote. People vote. Young people vote.”

Over the past two years, Ocasio-Cortez, alongside Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, have garnered a level of attention that was unprecedented for a quartet of freshmen representatives, particularly women lawmakers given the historic dominance of power that men have enjoyed through the history of the U.S. Congress.

Tlaib, D-Mich., told supporters that she doesn’t have patience for Biden to deliver on his promises.

“When I met with President-elect Biden in Detroit he said, ‘You know I'm gonna need your help.’ I said, ‘Sir, I'm gonna help you get reelected don't worry about that,’” Tlaib recalled. “But I said you I may not be your favorite member of Congress, because my timeline is different.”

“The urgency we feel is very different than the people who turn a blind eye to the ticking time bomb of this climate crisis,” Omar, D-Minn., agreed.

As she reflected on her new colleagues like Bowman, Jones and Bush taking seats in Congress on Jan. 3, Ocasio-Cortez says their successful elections proves "they are not a flash in the pan."

"It shows that they are not a hot new thing," she said. "What is shows is a deep yearning for climate justice and environmental action the United States of America.”

But while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi previously could largely ignore the Squad’s fiery rhetoric because she could pass legislation without their support, now they could evolve into an outsize power among congressional progressives as Pelosi prepares to lead House Democrats through the thinnest majority of her two stretches holding the speaker’s gavel.

“They've got money, but we've got people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “At the end of the day, dollar bills don't vote, although they try to. We vote. People vote. Young people vote.”

Any legislation in the Senate will still be subject to a 60-vote threshold to go forward – regardless of whether Democrats are able to win two runoff elections in Georgia early next year.

Ocasio-Cortez now counts more than 100 cosponsors of the Green New Deal resolution, introduced in tandem with Sen. Ed Markey, who just won reelection – in thanks part to the support of the Sunrise Movement, an influential group of young activists working to stop the climate crisis.

“This isn't a matter of moving to the left. It's a matter of doing what's right,” Markey, D-Mass., said. “We want and we ask Joe Biden to be brave, to be big, to be bold, to ensure that we put in place the kinds of policies that are going to fundamentally transform the relationship, which exists between the people of our country and this climate.”

While these unabashed, self-described Democratic socialists have staked out the far-left mantle of progressivism, on the polar opposite of the Democratic party rests with the New Democrat Coalition – a caucus of roughly 100 Democrats, including many moderates who represent purple districts and helped defend Pelosi’s majority – even as their ranks dwindled amid modest Republican gains in the lower chamber.

Each faction has deflected blame for the party’s failures of the 2020 election, where Democratic candidates failed to defeat a single Republican incumbent and the GOP gained at least nine seats – with winners in several other close races not yet determined. Some moderates believe that progressives dragged them down, while the far-left criticized losing candidates for not embracing their ideology.

Minority voices in Congress who combine forces to form coalitions can have a disproportional impact on the legislative products receiving votes on the House floor, with the House Freedom Caucus serving as a prime example of the capabilities of troublemakers upsetting the designs of congressional leadership. While Pelosi may have been able to control the Squad’s ambitions over the past two years, their influence in the next session of Congress will be one she cannot ignore.

New Democrats see an opportunity to bend the arc of political divisions towards centrist collaboration and cooperation – even using the B-word – “bipartisanship” – to describe a realist effort to enact policies on behalf of voters who are fed up with congressional dysfunction.

“We have an opportunity to build coalitions across the board,” Rep. Suzan DelBene, who is running unopposed to chair the New Dems, told ABC News in an interview. She adds there’s a chance for “bipartisan legislation” given the likelihood of a divided Congress.

“The issue of gridlock and getting things done is critically important,” DelBene, D-Wash., said. “If there’s one consistent thing I hear from constituents, it’s consistently that folks want to see governments work again - moving forward and solving problems.”

New Democrats, according to DelBene, believe the top priority should be another package of relief to address the COVID-19 pandemic – not climate justice.

“Now we have opportunity to talk about how to work together under the Biden administration,” DelBene said. “Our top priority is addressing the pandemic and to make sure we have the public health response but also a strong economic response.”

While the Squad’s objective may be to leverage their unity to keep Pelosi from reaching 218 votes on measures of compromise, DelBene sees “many shared values” with the squad and doesn’t rule them out as potential collaborates on issues like creating economic opportunity, expanding affordable health care, and addressing issues of disparity, poverty and systemic racism.

The bottom line for DelBene is she sees her caucus’s role as a governing partner to Biden that finds consensus to appeal to voters who want Congress to solve problems.

“Building coalitions is very important,” DelBene stressed. “We need to hit the ground running…with the Biden administration and move forward and work with others, find those folks who want to make progress. It’s not always easy work but it’s critically important. That’ll be one of the things we’re judged on.”

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