AOC praises Biden's new chief of staff as a 'unifying pick'

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Thursday that President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to tap Ron Klain as his chief of staff is “encouraging” for liberals. The congresswoman, who is one of the more prominent progressive Democrats, described Klain, whose appointment was announced the day before, as a “listener” and “a profoundly unifying pick.”

“I think that he is extraordinarily competent. He led our country through the … Ebola crisis. He has led through many different political crises,” Ocasio-Cortez told Yahoo News, referencing the longtime Biden ally’s experience as President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar.”

Ocasio-Cortez discussed Klain during a question-and-answer session with reporters following a virtual town hall she held for residents of her district. Klain served as Biden’s chief of staff in the vice president’s office, a role he had also served under former Vice President Al Gore.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Election Day. (Kathy Willens/AP)

She recalled watching Obama’s own time as president-elect.

“I think, for folks my age in particular that came of age during the Obama administration — my very first vote that I ever cast was for Barack Obama, I was 18 years old. … There was this very quick shift after a successful election, which was this huge dumping of cold water, which happened during that transition period,” she said. “I think we saw kind of an era where a lot of folks who worked in administrations past and folks from, you know, Citibank, and Wall Street kind of flooded the transition period.”

She suggested that Klain could be a driver of an administration that is “less colored by the influence of Wall Street.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s praise for Biden’s top aide is notable because, in her nearly two years on Capitol Hill, she has earned a reputation for staunchly progressive positions and a willingness to criticize members of her party. During this year’s Democratic presidential primary, she endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders and said Biden’s candidacy didn’t excite her.

Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, testifies before the Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Subcommittee hearing on "Community Perspectives on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 10, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
Ron Klain on Capitol Hill in March of this year. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

The congresswoman made headlines in the past week for fighting back against claims — including some made by some of her House Democratic colleagues — that progressives cost her party House seats in this month’s election, which sent more Republicans to Congress than many observers had expected.

As she fielded questions from constituents during the virtual town hall, Ocasio-Cortez referenced that “hubbub.” She framed her comments as part of an effort to hold the Democratic Party and the coming Biden administration accountable.

“You all sent me to Congress not to just beat up on Republicans all day — as fun as that can be,” she said. “But you all sent me to Congress to hold all our institutions accountable and to hold a lot of the brokenness of Washington to account, and that includes the Democratic Party.”

Overall, she said Biden’s administration was beginning with “very good news” for progressives who hope to see large amounts of funding dedicated to combating climate change, one of her signature issues. She pointed to Biden’s decision to appoint her to a task force he formed over the summer to address the issue.

“What we were able to do is expand President-elect Biden’s climate plan by orders of magnitude,” she said. “And we really made it drastically better.”

Ocasio-Cortez said progressives should now focus on holding Biden accountable to the agreements outlined by the task force. She said she hoped to “push for, and encourage, and really cheer on and campaign for a Cabinet that will allow Joe Biden to keep his word.”


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