On stage at a rally in Queens on Saturday, and in interviews beforehand with The Intercept, NBC News, and CBS News, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expounded on her decision to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary. Perhaps as important as her endorsement was the motivation behind it: If Ocasio-Cortez portrayed Sanders as the only trustworthy candidate in a field of sellouts and shills, it could make uniting the party after the nomination — either behind Sanders or one of his opponents — that much more difficult. But Ocasio-Cortez went a different route.
Put simply, she said that her endorsement is intended to help build a movement, which would shape not just whether Democrats beat President Donald Trump in 2020, but how. And, she said, it was a recognition that Sanders is the only candidate in the field who has been fighting consistently for working people for decades, making him the ideal leader of multiracial, working-class movement.
By endorsing Sanders in order to help build his movement, Ocasio-Cortez is taking seriously the campaign’s motto, “Not me, us.”
“For me, it wasn’t even about helping the senator. It was a moment of clarity for me personally in saying, What role do I want to play?” Ocasio-Cortez told NBC. “And I want to be a part of a mass movement.”
“It was less about personalities and more about values, more about strategy, more about not just, Are we going to defeat Donald Trump? But how are we going to defeat him? And so that’s a process that I think every American needs to go through,” she told The Intercept. “I’m proud to be part of this movement.”
She told CBS News that she had met with Elizabeth Warren before making the announcement. “I think she’s a fabulous candidate,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Frankly, Senator Sanders, Senator Warren, and myself are all on the same team in the party.”
Later, on Twitter, she made clear that her support of Sanders was not a condemnation of Warren. In reply to a Warren supporter who said he was jealous that Sanders had landed the endorsement, she said, “We should all be grateful to have such strong, progressive leadership to choose from. For many it’s a tough choice precisely because of how great they are. I’m confident we will all come together on the other side stronger than ever.”
For Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic victories are hollow if they’re not helping push the country in a more progressive direction. She told The Intercept that she will soon begin weighing in on more competitive primaries, even those in which incumbent Democrats are running for reelection. Primary endorsements, she said, are “part of a continual consideration about not just, Does the Democratic Party have the majority, but what does that majority look like and what will that majority fight for? And too often, that majority lets working people down, and I think we have a responsibility to really look at the quality … of the Democratic majority, and how we make sure that we continue to support a transformational Democratic Party.” So far, she has only endorsed one primary challenger, Marie Newman, running against Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois. Sources with knowledge of her thinking say that an endorsement of Jessica Cisneros, running against Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is imminent.
She told CBS News, and reiterated on stage at the rally, that one reason she backed Sanders was his consistent work for decades on behalf of the working class. That history contrasts him to every other Democrat in the race, including Warren, who was conservative as a young woman and at times registered as a Republican before converting to the Democratic Party and progressivism in the 1990s.
Ocasio-Cortez noted that just last year, she was still working as a bartender in Manhattan. “Now that I’m on the other side of this as a member of Congress,” she told CBS, “and understanding the pressures there are on the inside to conform, and to have seen them and experienced them firsthand, it’s astounded me, frankly, that the senator has been there fighting for me long before I got to the halls of Congress and fighting for people like me.”