The praise was faint — and it was damning.
During her first year in Congress, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been the subject of embarrassingly fawning media coverage and hailed by Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
But for a picture of how actual, serious members of the party establishment feel about the New York firebrand, look no further than a Sunday interview on CNN with Rep. Cheri Bustos, the Illinois congresswoman who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The woman in charge of the arm of the party dedicated to electing Democrats to the House of Representatives (known as the “D-Triple-C”) was asked point-blank whether Ocasio-Cortez is “good” for the Democratic Party in the House.
The answer she didn’t give was more important than the ones she gave.
Four times, “New Day” host Victor Blackwell tried to get a “yes or no” answer to the question, “Is she good for the Democratic caucus in the House?”
To say the Bustos responses were a little shy of an absolute affirmative would be generous.
“She has a lot of followers. I have respect for her,” Bustos said at one point. “She brings a new voice to Congress.”
Blackwell then repeated the question.
“Look, we’ve got members from all different spectrums. I respect her, and she brings a new voice, and I think that’s always welcome,” Bustos said, basically repeating herself.
Blackwell didn’t give up.
“I’m asking you just a straightforward question,” he said. “Is she good for the Democratic caucus in the House?”
“We have members from all different spectrums of the Democratic Party,” Bustos said. “Look, I come from a district that Donald Trump won. My politics are somewhat different than hers, but she brings a voice that’s welcome, and, and, and, um, I have great, I have great appreciation for that.”
Blackwell then recounted some of Ocasio-Cortez’s demonstrated prowess in fundraising, and repeated, again:
“I’m asking the chairwoman of the D-Triple-C if this member, who’s right now in the top 10 of House members raising money, if she’s good for the caucus, and you can’t give me a straight yes or no,” he said.
“Look,” Bustos answered. “I have respect for all 235 Democrats in our caucus. She is bringing a new voice. The fact that she has raised unbelievable amounts of money, and the fact that she just announced that she’s willing to help our candidates who need, who could benefit with that financial help, that’s welcome.”
Now, it’s understandable that Bustos might be a little chary when it comes to the notorious AOC.
Not only is Ocasio-Cortez a bold-faced name when it comes to contemporary politics, but she’s also a fundraising powerhouse, hauling in more than $5 million in 2019, according to Fox News.
AOC being AOC, however, she has not used that substantial war chest to chip in even her basic “dues” to the DCCC for use in electing more Democrats to the House.
For what it’s worth, AOC says she’s not paying money to the party because the party has a policy of protecting itself by blackballing political consultants who are willing to work with primary challengers to Democratic incumbents (the way Ocasio-Cortez herself unseated longtime New York Democrat Joe Crowley in a 2018 primary).
But that’s internal Democratic Party politics. The larger point here is the way Bustos — as much a party loyalist as anyone — handled Blackell’s question, and the rift it makes clear.
She had to know saying anything outright negative about AOC would likely blow up on her and the party, and further divide the party at the beginning of a presidential year that’s likely to see plenty of explosions to come — particularly on the Democratic side.
That’s a good sign that the Democratic establishment is afraid of the chaos that a new quantity like Ocasio-Cortez could wreak on the rest of the party. AOC isn’t “good for the Democratic caucus” and Bustos knows it as well or better than any other person in American politics.
But instead of saying so, she stuck to the tried-and-true method of offering praise where she could and deflecting the rest.
It was faint praise, though. And as faint praise often is, it was damning.
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