Ocasio-Cortez is Committed to the Democratic Party, Not DSA

There is currently a debate within DSA over whether or not to re-endorse AOC in her 2024 reelection campaign. This article argues against endorsement, you can find the article supporting it here

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the most prominent politicians in the United States and perhaps the most well-known, self-identified democratic-socialist next to Bernie Sanders. She has a social media following of millions. She is also one of the most well-resourced. According to OpenSecrets, she has over $6 million cash on hand, putting her in the top ten of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. She consistently ranks among the top 20 leading fundraisers for House incumbents. She has risen to Vice Ranking Member of the Oversight Committee. Finally, she also occupies one of the safest seats for a member of Congress on the Left. She doesn’t suffer from recurring threats of serious primaries, like many of her fellow “Squad” members. 

Ocasio-Cortez has a lot of power and influence, yet her actions show that her focus is on using this power for the benefit of the Democratic Party over the independent left. Ocasio-Cortez’s recent donation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) while left-wing organizations face financial peril is the biggest red flag we have to date. In addition, her moderate position on Palestine and Israel has isolated herself from the rapidly growing Palestinian liberation movement as well as fellow DSA-endorsed Representatives, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush. As DSA enters a period of discussion to examine our potential endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez, her unwavering loyalty to the Democratic Party and its institutions and current leadership, as well as her overarching support of Israel, its “right to exist” and its defense subsidies, make her candidacy undeserving of a DSA endorsement. 

Following the Money

What someone is willing to fund is a much stronger indicator of what they support than any statement they make, and Ocasio-Cortez has made it clear that her allegiances are with the Democratic Party over the Left. It’s no secret that organizations on the Left have experienced financial crises under the Biden administration. Sierra Club and Justice Democrats, as well as left media like The Intercept, have all faced financial woes. Justice Democrats notably laid off 12 of its 20 staffers. 

While budget shortfalls have plagued many organizations on the Left, Ocasio-Cortez has opted to direct her considerable resources to the Democratic establishment instead. On April 12, Ocasio-Cortez announced she would donate $260,000 to the DCCC. This is the first time Ocasio-Cortez has paid dues as an elected official. According to an April 13 TeamAOC fundraising email the money will be used “to protect every vote in every state from the MAGA movement actively trying to overturn our democracy this November.” In the New York Times story that broke this donation, Ocasio-Cortez notes that the new elections of House Democratic leadership are a signal to “assert our influence in larger institutions.” This payment and these claims contradict much of her earlier rhetoric about the DCCC. She has an extensive history since 2017 of criticizing the DCCC. In her 2018 campaign debut video “The Courage to Change”, she states, “This race is about people vs. money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money.” 

Despite this messaging from Ocasio-Cortez’s team, the DCCC has made no indications that it’s responding to any leftward pressure. Recent leadership changes placed Hakeem Jeffries in the House Minority Leader position. Jeffries is an ardent Zionist whose top donor is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Ocasio-Cortez’s team provides no concrete evidence to support their claims that the money will truly aid in voter protection or that paying dues at all will aid progressive causes, much less socialist ones. In fact, there is considerable evidence that the DCCC will support right-wing candidates over left-wing challengers to the Democratic Party’s establishment — or even MAGA candidates in Republican primaries. In 2022, the DCCC spent $435,000 helping far-right, election denier John Gibbs win the GOP congressional primary in Michigan. This was part of a $43 million tranche dedicated to helping far-right Republicans win primary elections so that Democrats could have better chances in the general election. 

Even more, these dues are optional. Many House Democrats routinely do not pay dues. According to March 2023 figures from the DCCC Member Dues report, 78 members of the 216-member Democratic delegation paid less than 24% of the dues they owe. There were 65 members who paid nothing at all. This group includes Bush and Tlaib, and other progressives like Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Summer Lee. There is exactly one non-leadership member of the Democratic delegation that has paid these dues in full. Ocasio-Cortez would be the second member to do so with her most recent payment. 

Now it is likely that Ocasio-Cortez stands to personally gain through her financial participation in the system that values money over people. A 2019 Intercept article documents how, effectively, everything in Democratic Party politics is for sale. “Members of Congress who pay their dues and hit their [fundraising] targets are rewarded with better committee assignments in the future, and more favorable treatment of legislation they author, than members who shirk their dues.” Moreover, congressional rankings and the advancement of legislation are functionally determined by the highest bidder. “Members who don’t pay, for instance, are less likely to have their bills or amendments get a floor or committee vote”, The Intercept also notes. Ocasio-Cortez seems to have decided to compete in the capitalist winner-take-all system rather than maintain a commitment to the working class.

Weak(ening) Commitments on Palestine

Further, Ocasio-Cortez’s realignment closer with Democratic establishment is not just limited to monetary gifts to secure advancements within Congress. Her positions have been increasingly closer to Democratic Party positions and out of alignment with the Left. Just eight days after her DCCC donation, Ocasio-Cortez released a statement with 18 other members of Congress in support of Israel’s Iron Dome. The issue enjoys supermajority support across Democrats and Republicans.  The April 20 press release affirms this shared position among progressives in the Democratic Party, stating: “We believe strongly in Israel’s right to self-defense and have joined colleagues previously in affirming our shared commitment.” It fails to recognize that Palestinians are an occupied people and that their land is occupied by Israel. There is no right to “self-defense” Israel can claim against a territory it occupies. 

The press release goes on to say, “all of us support strengthening the Iron Dome and other defense systems and we are committed to a sovereign, safe, and secure future for Israel.” The press release fails to acknowledge how Palestinians need defense from Israel. A report from the UN and World Bank notes that 62% of all homes in Gaza and 84% of health facilities have been “damaged or destroyed.” Israel also assassinates aid workers and blocks UN food and supplies in order to starve Palestinians to death. These are all a consequence of the actions from the Israeli military, but there is no equivalent press release calling for a Palestinian “Iron Dome.” Only Israel needs defending. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s positioning on Palestine has always been shaky at best, but what’s worse is that her effective understanding of the issue has failed to develop since her first term and in some ways has deteriorated. A 2018 Jacobin article covers her first blunder on Palestine. On the PBS show, Firing Line, host Margaret Hoover interviewed Ocasio-Cortez for a deeper look into her stance on Israel. Both of Hoover’s questions caused Ocasio-Cortez to capitulate on her positions on Palestine. She responds to a question on the massacre of Palestinians with the affirmation of Israel’s right to exist and a canned reply of a two-state solution. When asked about occupation, she simply means that settlements cause “difficulty” for Palestinians to return to their homes. 

Jacobin underscores the issues with Ocasio-Cortez’s statements clearly:

Prompted about her use of the word “massacre,” Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t stay with the experience of the Palestinians. Instead, she goes immediately to an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist, as if Israelis were the first order of concern here, and affirming that right were the necessary ticket to saying anything about Palestine.

Further, when asked about the occupation of Palestine, Ocasio-Cortez is described as wandering “into a thicket of abstractions about access to housing” and going immediately to “platitudes” about a two-state solution.

This interview is not the only time Ocasio-Cortez fails to stand her ground on Palestine. In 2021, Ocasio-Cortez would switch her vote from “No” to “Present” on the standalone Iron Dome bill. She released a letter explaining her vote, stating, “I want to be clear with our community that I am opposed to this bill, but ultimately cast a PRESENT vote.” She does not, however, explain why she switched from her vote to “present” in spite of her stated opposition.

Two years later, Ocasio-Cortez’s position on Israel’s defense developed for the worse. In an October 2023 CNN interview with Abby Phillip, Ocasio-Cortez was asked about her previous position on Iron Dome. She replied that Israel’s defense systems are “absolutely legitimate.” When pressed further if she would vote “Yes” on Iron Dome today, she stated “I absolutely think there’s an openness. For sure.” One month later, House Rep. Michael Lawler, a Republican from New York, introduced House Resolution 888. The title of the bill was “Reaffirming the State of Israel’s right to exist,” but the text of the bill largely reaffirms staunch support for Zionist settler-colonialism. Ocasio-Cortez voted in favor of this resolution, and further, her staff defended the action. National Political Committee (NPC) member, Ahmed, was part of an ad-hoc Federal Socialists-in-Office body with other NPC members and Ocasio-Cortez staffers. Ahmed confirmed that in the aftermath of the vote, Ocasio-Cortez’s staff defended the vote on the basis that this resolution wouldn’t codify anything into law. Further, in a March 2024 CNN interview Ocasio-Cortez affirmed that the United States and Israel have “a right to go after Hamas” without similarly acknowledging the Palestinian right to defend against occupation. Ocasio-Cortez consistently affirms the rights of Israel to carry out its project while denying the same rights to Palestinians. 

No Ally in AOC

Ocasio-Cortez’s increasing commitment to and ingratiation of herself with the Democratic Party creates major contradictions and blocks the political independence many in DSA are seeking to achieve. In one instance, Ocasio-Cortez charged the Biden administration with “sidestepping the entire US Congress to unconditionally back the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza.” Yet in another, she’s grinning, ecstatic, in a sketch with the very same man responsible for funding the genocide, Biden. In her first instance of describing Israel’s genocide this March she stated, “It is against United States law to transfer weapons to any force blocking US humanitarian assistance.” Yet in another, she commits to “strengthening the Iron Dome and other defense systems.” How do these positions pair up? While Ocasio-Cortez is one of the few members of Congress to call for a ceasefire and has a better record on the issue than most, these facts do not make her an automatic ally of Palestinian liberation. Every instance of support for Palestinians has been marred by her overarching support for the Zionist project. 

We should treat Ocasio-Cortez as a capable actor, more than halfway through her third term in her current position. Her actions aren’t mistakes and it is not out of some blissful ignorance that she carries them out. She professes that she, or some other number of factors, have successfully changed the face of the Democratic Party – even as it marches in lockstep with supporting infinite arms for genocide. When Ocasio-Cortez affirms the Iron Dome and repeats the line that Israel has a right to exist, she does so as one of the most influential people in Congress. 

As I write this, Israeli tanks surround Rafah, airstrikes land in Gaza, and Biden is set to approve another $1 billion to fund the ammunition. We must not fool ourselves with illusions that Ocasio-Cortez shares a political home with DSA members. She has chosen the president she has resolved to endorse, no matter what atrocities he commits, no matter her own critiques of his actions, and it is with the Democratic Party that she can work with to boost her political ambitions. An endorsement is not just undeserved, it’s unwarranted.