As the 2020 Presidential Election draws closer, Americans will soon expect the endorsements of celebrities and politicians to show up either on Twitter, in person at rallies, or as lengthy and emotional op-eds across the internet. While these endorsements have always been (and will continue to be) incredibly important to gaining votes across the country, there is undeniably one endorsement that matters more than any other this election: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th District.
Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC,” is in her first term in the House of Representatives after beating out 10-term incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley (D), in the 2018 midterm elections, and immediately made headlines for being the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress at age 29. Additionally, her frequent social media use has revolutionized the way congressional leaders interact with the public. Since being sworn-in during January of 2019, AOC has been a frequent focus of mainstream media due to her heavily progressive views regarding healthcare, immigration, foreign policies, and climate change. Although she has ruffled the feathers of many politicians, most notably the president himself, her and the three other congresswomen (Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib) who make up “the Squad” have become somewhat of a voice to the many underrepresented groups of Americans who have long lacked an opinion in the government. While their approval is increasingly important, it may be almost a year till the four members of “the Squad,” especially AOC, endorse one of the Democratic candidates; so, until then, here is a rundown on the five Democratic frontrunners (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren) and how they might rate in AOC’s gradebook:
1. JOE BIDEN
If there’s one frontrunner that we can bet will not get the endorsement from AOC or the rest of “the Squad” (unless he ends up being the party’s nomination against Trump), it’s Joe Biden. Not only has he said that he favors a more “middle-ground” climate change policy in lieu of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and has come out in support of an expansion of the Affordable Care Act instead of universal healthcare, Biden’s past stances on fundamental issues differ so far from AOC’s that it is almost difficult to remember that they represent the same party. From voting for the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 to helping architect the War on Drugs and trend of mass incarceration as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Biden has had a lot to rectify and redress: his chairing of the Anita Hill Hearing has been replaced by his dedication to ending on-campus sexual assault, the mass deportations he oversaw as vice president smoothed over by his vocal support of the DREAM Act, and his willingness to compromise with segregationists to end federal busing forgotten because of his position as vice president to the first Black President of the United States. His total reversal of ideologies and policies (and his fall-back reputation of “Uncle Joe”) will definitely work to gain endorsements from all sides of the Democratic party, but it is incredibly unlikely that one comes from AOC who wants a president that is moving forward, not constantly having to apologize for what they did in the past.
THE SQUAD GRADE: D
2. PETE BUTTIGIEG
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana’s realistic policy goals and position as a centrist amid the other Democratic frontrunners is exactly why he is currently rising in the polls - but it’s also the reason he will likely not be endorsed by AOC in the upcoming election. While he strongly supports AOC’s Green New Deal and has a similar stance to that of “the Squad” when it comes to LGBTQ issues, Buttigieg’s eagerness to find a middle-ground in almost every other policy he has proposed is what separates him the most from the congresswoman. The mayor supports DACA, an easier pathway to citizenship, and the modernization of U.S. immigration laws but, unlike AOC, would not abolish the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE); instead, Buttigieg would like to evaluate ICE’s inhumane procedures and make sure they never happen again and continue security at the Mexico-U.S. border. While Buttigieg recently released a comprehensive strategy for Black America called "The Douglass Plan" that falls in line with the views of "the Squad" on issues such as prison reform and police brutality, his past with racial injustice in South Bend will likely strip
"The Douglass Plan" of its validity in the eyes of AOC. Additionally, he differs strongly from Rep. Ilhan Omar in his views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in that he is willing to support both sides of the conflict to work toward a resolution, but has leaned in support of Israel since he was elected mayor; the dissonance between their views will surely be another reason for AOC to not endorse Buttigieg because of her outward support for Omar after she was accused of being anti-Semitic for her pro-Palestine stance and actions. Finally, AOC and the other members of “the Squad’s” belief in Medicare for all is not shared by Buttigieg who supports “Medicare for all who want it” on an eventual (yet slow) path toward a single-payer system.
THE SQUAD GRADE: C
3. KAMALA HARRIS:
Kamala Harris is seemingly the perfect candidate for “the Squad” to endorse: she is a progressive from the state of California, she refuses to hold back when calling out her colleagues, and she’s a woman of color who has beaten the odds to get where she is in the government. She worked with AOC on the Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019 to help people with criminal records get a better chance at housing, she supports universal healthcare, and she signed onto the Green New Deal as a co-sponsor - so, why is it that she falls behind two other candidates in the race to get AOC’s endorsement? For starters, Harris defended Nancy Pelosi following AOC’s comments that called the speaker “outright disrespectful” to women of color saying, “That’s not my experience with Nancy Pelosi … and I’ve known her and worked with her for years. I’ve known her to be very respectful of women of color and very supportive of them.” The Senator’s “Tough-on-Crime” past involving harsh anti-truancy efforts that left several parents imprisoned, the overcrowding of prisons in spite of pleas to release non-violent offenders, and a poor record with handling appeals of innocent people will also likely isolate the support of “the Squad” - primarily AOC, who has been vocal about her desire for prison reform and voting rights for felons. And finally, Ilhan Omar has been scrutinized and accused of anti-Semitism for months following her and Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s co-sponsorship of a free speech bill that would allow citizens to boycott Israel and participate in civil protest until Israel meets what are described as “obligations under International Law.” The bill, which has been supported by AOC, is almost in complete contrast to Harris’s views on the country which she says, overall, meets the human rights standards and is “dedicated to being a democracy and ... one of [the United States’s] closest friends in that region.” If Harris wants an endorsement from any member of “the Squad,” it looks like she is going to have to shift left on several different areas of her campaign platform, but is that worth jeopardizing her relationships with moderate Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi, who she is also vying for the approval of?
THE SQUAD GRADE: B
4. BERNIE SANDERS
The policies and opinions of Senator Bernie Sanders align with AOC (and some of the other members of “the Squad”) more than any other candidate running for president. Beyond having similar (if not almost identical) views on issues ranging from reproductive and LGBTQ rights to student debt forgiveness, Sanders also shares common ground with “the Squad” in political areas that many of the other candidates haven’t even dared to enter. The Vermont Senator backed AOC’s “Green New Deal” and issued a joint statement with her asking the United States to declare climate change a national emergency; he recently tweeted about his 2002 decision to vote against the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has spoken publicly about his plan to abolish the current immigration system in place of one that keeps families together, allows undocumented immigrants a faster and easier path to citizenship, and supports DACA - all stances that AOC has been adamant about supporting her past few months in office. She also backed Sanders’s position after he was the first Democratic candidate to voice his belief that incarcerated felons should have voting rights. The senator, like several of the other candidates, also supports a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, but, unlike the others, he has not been afraid to call out the Israeli government - specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu - and discuss the importance of peace and compromise on both sides of the issue. Sanders, while he does not support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) behind the bill that Ilhan Omar co-sponsored, voted against a retaliatory bill that would have allowed the government to pass laws suppressing Americans’ right to boycott Israel stating that it would “violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.” Sanders has also been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America for president - an organization that both AOC and Rashida Tlaib have been outspoken members of since they were running for Congress. Finally, AOC worked for Sanders on his 2016 presidential campaign and has said that she would like to see a presidential candidate who “has a coherent worldview and logic from which all these policy proposals are coming forward” and that she “think[s] Sen. Sanders has that.”
THE SQUAD GRADE: A
5. ELIZABETH WARREN
AOC’s endorsement plan currently seems to be as follows: If not Sanders, then Warren. Co-sponsoring the Green New Deal, composing the representative’s entry in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2018,” and immediately coming to the defense of Omar after she was called anti-Semitic has cemented Warren as a top contender for AOC’s support due to her unrelenting (and seemingly) genuine support of the members of “the Squad” since they were first elected in November 2018. The Massachusetts Senator has worked with Massachusetts’ Rep. Ayanna Pressley (they co-wrote a letter to the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau asking for the firing of an employee who was a member of the Alliance Defending Freedom - a well-known anti-LGBTQ organization) and has garnered the long-time support of Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th District who Warren endorsed during her campaign for Congress. While the candidate supports universal healthcare and has been the author of several “AOC-Approved” policies (i.e. a Big Tech breakup plan), there are still a few issues that Warren must convince the congresswoman of before she receives her - or any member of “the Squad’s” - endorsement including her decision to not abolish ICE in favor of reshaping the agency, why she lacks a position on the voting rights of incarcerated felons, and her reasoning for why she wants to try to maintain a positive relationship with Israel.
THE SQUAD GRADE: A-
The second Democratic presidential debate airs Tuesday, July 30th and Wednesday, July 31st at 8 p.m. Eastern on CNN and Telemundo.