Over 300,000 people in America have died from COVID-19. Between the months of May and October, the number of Americans living in poverty has grown by 8 million. Last year — for the third year in a row — the number of Americans without health insurance increased, this time to 10.9%. Basically, a lot needs to change, and according to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the way to do so will necessarily involve having new leadership within the Democratic Party.
In a Wednesday episode of the podcast Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill, Ocasio-Cortez discussed the pressing need for more stimulus checks and financial relief. After she expressed her confusion and frustration about the “lack of urgency” within Congress, Scahill asked if this might be grounds for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to step down from their positions and make way for new, younger leaders. “I do think that we need new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
That said, she noted that there’s “very little option for succession” and progressives within the House haven’t solidified a plan for new leadership. “The question is — this year, for example — the hesitancy that I have is that I want to make sure that if we’re pointing people in a direction [to lead], that we have a plan,” she said.
Schumer, who is 70, was reelected to lead the Senate Democratic caucus in November; the same month, the House Democrats nominated Pelosi to continue the role she's held since 2003. Pelosi seemed to hint that this would be her last term, confirming that she said she would abide by a term limit agreement that she made two years ago.
Ocasio-Cortez clarified on the podcast that she doesn't want to replace Pelosi as Speaker, saying she isn’t ready and “couldn’t do that job.” But, she also emphasised that the left needs to start looking ahead. “The Speaker has indicated that she may be looking at transitioning and leaving at some point and the left isn’t really making a plan for that, either,” she said. “So I do think that it’s something that we really need to think about.”
But the need for change extends beyond the House and the Senate. Earlier this week, Politico reported that President-elect Joe Biden added employees from companies including Facebook, Google, and Goldman Sachs to his transition’s agency review team; many of Biden’s top Cabinet picks are also alumni from the Obama Administration. Getting Donald Trump out of the office was just one step, and Ocasio-Cortez noted that Biden's Cabinet choices indicate this larger need for change within the Democratic Party.
“We now have a Biden Administration that’s bringing back a lot of Obama appointees, which depending on where you are in the party, may sound nice, I guess,” she continued. “But when Obama was making appointments, he was bringing back a lot of Clinton appointees.”
Although this is the most candid she’s got about Pelosi and Schumer, Ocasio-Cortez — along with fellow progressive congresswomen like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — has pushed for structural over incremental change since her 2018 election. “My dissent within the Democratic party comes from my lived experience. It’s not just that we can be better, it’s that we have to be better,” she told Vanity Fair in October. “We’re not good enough right now.”