Behind the scenes, House Democrats have been quietly lobbying their colleagues to support their bids for key committee assignments. One of the key assignments up for grabs was a seat on the Energy and Commerce committee which overseas both health care and climate change. The first person to announce she would try to get support from other members for the assignment was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After all, if your priorities are the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, this is the perfect assignment from which to push both of those.
However, AOC had some competition from a moderate member of the NY delegation, Rep. Kathleen Rice. Both Rice and AOC have spent the last couple of weeks arguing their case for why they deserve the assignment in preparation for a vote this week.
When Democrats got together to vote, Speaker Pelosi announced her preferred assignments for four of the five available assignments. There was some pushback but eventually Pelosi got her way and Democrats decided not to even vote on those four. But Pelosi didn’t select anyone for the 5th committee assignment, the one to be filled by a New York member. That set up a showdown between Rep. Rice and AOC, with moderate House members arguing the assignment should go to someone who paid their party dues and who hadn’t tried to primary incumbent members. In other words, they argued that it shouldn’t go to AOC.
Rice and Ocasio-Cortez have been battling behind the scenes for weeks to secure one of the few open seats on the exclusive committee, which oversees everything from health care policy to climate issues. Tensions spilled into the open Thursday in a private meeting of the Steering and Policy Committee, where Democrats were forced to choose between the two members in a tense — and awkward — secret ballot vote…
The panel launched into an intense round of speeches on each candidate, with several Democrats speaking up to lobby against Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman member and social media star who is seen as a political threat by many of the caucus’s moderates for her far-left policies. On the video call, several Democrats called out Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to help liberal challengers take out their own incumbents, as well as her refusal to pay party campaign dues.
“I’m taking into account who works against other members in primaries and who doesn’t,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said on the call, according to multiple sources. Cuellar successfully fended off a primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros, who Ocasio-Cortez supported.
The backstory here is that AOC backed a primary opponent against Rep. Cuellar, so he’s speaking from personal experience.
In the end, Rep. Rice crushed AOC. The vote was 46-13. A lopsided victory that suggests a lot of House Democrats aren’t fans of her take-no-prisoners approach toward more moderate members.
Rice’s win was somewhat surprising because she had previously refused to support Pelosi for Speaker and been denied a committee assignment because of it. Pelosi apparently got over that. Or maybe she looked at her reduced majority in the House and decided AOC was a bigger threat to her continuing as Speaker than Rep. Rice.
The American Prospect reports AOC wasn’t the only progressive who came away with nothing:
A similar situation existed with the Energy and Commerce Committee seat vacated by incoming New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Lujan. That seat was expected to go to progressive Texan Sylvia Garcia, but was contested by her moderate colleague from Texas, Lizzie Fletcher. Garcia, the other priority for progressives in Energy and Commerce, was left off the slate without even a vote. Fletcher, who has a troubling track record on unions, got endorsed by Pelosi…
The result is both a resounding and surprising defeat for progressives, who just days ago had no reason to believe both Ocasio-Cortez and Garcia would be left off the committee, or even that this would be settled this week.
None of this is terrible surprising if you’ve been paying attention to the intra-party squabbles since the election. Moderates have been saying openly that some of AOC’s priorities (especially “defund the police“) cost them seats this year. Democrats had been expecting to pick up 10-15 seats and instead it looks like they lost a dozen. There’s a real chance Democrats could lose control of the House in 2022 unless they take a different approach and this assignment vote suggests they are clearly aware of that.
Most people in this situation would take a hint and maybe try to moderate their approach a bit but not AOC. Just like Bernie Sanders, her whole brand is being the crusading socialist. And like Bernie Sanders that probably means she won’t get much done during her tenure in Congress. But, let’s face it, lots of people on the left already want her to run for president and she has left the door open to running for Senate so she may not have to put up with these House moderates much longer.