From agitator to insider: The evolution of AOC
Then and now
Ocasio-Cortez’s growing ease and seniority within the Democratic caucus is a far cry from when she arrived in the House in 2019 and decided to skip most party meetings.
At the time, Ocasio-Cortez said, many veteran House Democrats treated her with a mix of admiration, disrespect and fear. They would avoid speaking to her when she was standing nearby, she said, even as they lapped up news coverage about her latest utterance.
Her early sense that colleagues were forming impressions of her without bothering to talk to her was reinforced by non-stop leaks of closed-door caucus meetings, which, she said, “might as well have been broadcast on C-SPAN.”
“One of those things that I really learned during that period was that there was nothing I could do that would dampen that fervor. Whether I participated in it or not, there was just going to be all these stories and all of these things,” she said of the early media attention she received. “And so I decided to have agency.”
Ocasio-Cortez is operating in a much different place now, and nothing encapsulates that repositioning more than her ascension to a top role on the Oversight Committee. Her role as vice ranking member has helped Democratic leadership bring her closer inside their tent — and allowed her to assert herself as an institutional force, while still channeling the energy she brought as a 29-year-old newcomer in 2019.
At the same time, she made clear in the interview that she reserves the right to hold the Biden administration accountable — especially in policy areas where she sees the president’s team as occasionally “weak,” like immigration.
Bonding with Raskin
Ocasio-Cortez’s rise on the committee is in part thanks to a partnership with Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the panel who led the push to impeach former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The former constitutional law professor and former bartender’s bond began during the last Congress when they worked together on the Oversight panel.
“People don’t see the academic nerd side of her,” said Raskin, who at 60 is nearly twice Ocasio-Cortez’s age. “But I totally do, as a professor.”
As for her posture toward Democratic leadership, they’re still figuring each other out. She noted that her sometimes-prickly relationship with Pelosi caused consternation at times.
“I … own that I was very critical of our party’s leadership.” she said. Though Ocasio-Cortez said her relationship with the new batch of Democratic leaders is “still evolving,” she acknowledged “a significant shift” in the dynamic with party leaders. She attributed at least in part it to an influx of new liberal, younger, more diverse members who are more natural allies.