Ocasio-Cortez throws her support to Bernie Sanders

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez officially announced her backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders for president on Saturday, calling him an inspiration for her own grassroots campaign.

Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., lauded as a superstar among progressives, received a raucous reception from the crowd at Queensbridge Park, in Queens, N.Y., as she outlined her working-class upbringing and the effect of Sanders’s 2016 primary campaign. She decried the atmosphere in Congress, arguing that there is a push within its halls to get legislators to abandon the working class.

“It wasn't until I heard of a man by the name of Bernie Sanders,” said Ocasio-Cortez, talking about her previous job as a bartender, “that I began to question and assert and recognize my inherent value as a human being that deserves health care, housing, education and a living wage.”

Ocasio-Cortez introduced Sanders as her “tio” (uncle in Spanish), and he emerged to AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” The New York City legislator was the last in a long series of speakers tasked with giving their official stamp of approval to Sanders, who is recovering from a recent heart attack. Critics have called into question the vitality of his campaign, once again bringing the touchy question of age and fitness to the center of the primary debate. Yet supporters at the rally, who lined up in rows shaking “Bernie 2020” signs as singer-songwriter Max serenaded the crowd, remained unflinching to their candidate.

“I’m here to tell you Bernie’s back,” Sanders’s wife, Jane, said among “Bernie” chants from the crowd, "and he is healthy, and he’s more than ready to continue his lifelong struggle to fight for the working people of America.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Queens, N.Y. (Photo: Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

“Well, what about his health?” asked liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, criticizing the media coverage of Sanders. “How about we talk about the health of this planet? That’s the health I care about. What about the health of the kids in Flint, Michigan? Talk about that on cable news.”

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Moore added: “The only heart attack we should be talking about is the one Wall Street is going to have when Bernie Sanders is president of the United States.”

The endorsement caps off Sanders's return to the trail following the heart attack earlier this month and suspending his campaign to heal. On Tuesday evening, Sanders was in the middle of a vigorous debate performance when multiple outlets began to report the news that Ocasio-Cortez was set to endorse him. Minutes after the debate, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota announced that she had endorsed Sanders, giving the campaign a boost from two congresswomen of color under the age of 40.

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, clasps hands with Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Bernie's Back Rally in Long Island City, New York on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo: Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

“People supporting him is a huge thing,” said Sarah Heidtmann of Rocky Point, N.Y. “There’s a media narrative of ‘Bernie Bro’ culture. Ocasio-Cortez endorsing him … breaks that narrative that people of color, women don’t support him.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders are both self-described democratic socialists. Ocasio-Cortez, who now represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, was an organizer for Sanders’s run for the Democratic nomination in 2016 before launching her own insurgent campaign for the House in 2018. Her district is also near the country’s largest public housing development, the state’s dirtiest power plant and the site where Amazon was set to build its HQ2 until pushback from activists and some local leaders, including Ocasio-Cortez, caused the company to pull out of the deal.

Ocasio-Cortez reportedly called Sanders while he was in a Nevada hospital recovering from his heart attack to let him know she planned to endorse him. It remains to be seen if the endorsement will have a major effect on the primary, but Ocasio-Cortez’s 5.5 million Twitter followers are more than former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the current frontrunners in the race. Among Democrats with an opinion of both Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, the former is more popular among women voters, white voters and the wealthiest voters, potentially giving the senator a bump.

Three Sanders supporters at his Oct. 19 rally at Queensbridge Park. (Photo: Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

“It was pretty devastating to hear, but to hear that he’s still fighting, I’m still with him until the end,” said Christine Nwachukwu, a New Jersey resident and recent college graduate who attended Saturday’s rally. “Until he drops out of the race, I will be for Bernie. [Ocasio-Cortez] is the reason why I’m here today. Not because I love her more than I love Bernie, but because I just felt like today was a movement. … I do think that endorsements are important, especially when people think of AOC, they think of AOC being the leader of the party, even if she’s not. So if she is the leader, and she is for Bernie, everyone has to take a look at what they’re doing as well.”

“The AOC endorsement is a cherry on top,” said Matt Firovonti, who traveled from Allentown, Pa., to attend the rally, “but I was planning on coming here regardless,” adding that the endorsement provides momentum to the Sanders campaign.

There was some thought that Ocasio-Cortez could throw her support behind Warren, who wrote a Time magazine tribute to the congresswoman and appeared with her in a video critical of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Asked about the reports after the debate, Warren said they were all on the same team.

“Look, I have great respect for all three of those women,” said Warren, referring to Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, another member of the self-described “Squad,” who was initially reported to be leaning toward endorsing Sanders. “I think they are terrific. And here’s what I know for sure: When this primary is over, we are all going to be on the same side.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, the fourth “Squad” member, who also represents Warren's home state of Massachusetts, declined to issue an endorsement this week.

"Ayanna has tremendous respect for her sisters-in-service,” said a spokesperson. “Ultimately, these political decisions are made as individuals. Ayanna knows that taking back the [White House] in 2020 is a top priority, and she is working every day to hold this administration accountable."


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