The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What Ocasio-Cortez wants for America after beating Joe Crowley

The Fix’s Aaron Blake analyzes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking primary upset of Rep. Joseph Crowley and what it means for the Democratic Party. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

The challenger who defeated Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday night campaigned on a suite of socialist policy demands, from a single-payer health-care system to a guaranteed job for every American.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, ran on issues well outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party, including health care, the environment and criminal justice. Her campaign in the Bronx and Queens district lifted her above Crowley, who raised more than $3 million for his campaign.

Ocasio-Cortez also vocally backed calls to “abolish” Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency created in 2003 and increasingly decried by left-leaning activists for its punitive impact on undocumented residents. Only a handful of sitting House Democrats have called for the abolition of ICE, and Crowley did not.

Ocasio-Cortez — an activist who worked as a restaurant server less than a year ago — summarized her policy platform on a one-page sheet distributed at her campaign headquarters in Queens.

Not all these policies reflect legislation that can be signed into law, and many hurdles remain before they could be implemented. Republicans retain control of Congress, and even if Democrats were to take power, it's unclear how many members of the Democratic Party would be on board. These proposals would also involve overhauling rules governing large parts of the U.S. economy, and many details would have to be worked out — including financing.

Here is a brief explanation of three of her key policy positions, and how they differed from her opponent.

Health care: Ocasio campaigned on a single-payer health plan, called “Medicare for All,” in which a government insurer would guarantee health insurance for all state residents, eradicating private insurance in the state.

Ocasio-Cortez argued that a single government insurer would guarantee that every American has insurance, while giving the government greater purchasing power to reduce health-care spending costs overall. Crowley also signed onto the House bill supporting Medicare for All, but did so after his challenger and after more than 100 House Democrats had agreed to co-sponsor the legislation.

During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, Democrats initially proposed a step toward a government insurer, pitching it as a “public option.” But they backed off the effort amid objections from party moderates and a strong lobbying campaign from insurance companies and health-care firms.

Universal jobs guarantee: Ocasio-Cortez also campaigned on a “jobs guarantee,” in which the federal government would promise to give a job to every American who could not find one.

The idea has only recently gained currency among congressional Democrats, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) all signing onto different versions of a jobs guarantee. Critics say it would be impractical to manage and hurt businesses by draining them of their workforce, while proponents such as Ocasio-Cortez say it would end unemployment and exert upward pressure on wages.

The jobs guarantee was one part of Ocasio-Cortez's broader suite of left-wing policy positions, including a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

“Abolish ICE”: Ocasio-Cortez also vowed to push for the eradication of the immigration agency that was created along with the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Abolish ICE” has become an increasing demand of activists on the left amid daily stories of immigrant families separated under President Trump. But as The Washington Post recently reported, even some on the party’s left flank are skeptical about the call to abolish ICE — with Sanders ducking a question on the issue.

Crowley was similarly very critical of the agency, calling it for it to be “put back on its leash.” But Crowley declined to call for its abolition.

Ocasio-Cortez, by contrast, demanded ICE be abolished immediately, arguing ICE had been founded in a way that made it beyond repair. She left New York just days before the primary to join protests at an ICE detention center in Texas.

“As overseen by the Trump administration, ICE operates with virtually no accountability, ripping apart families and holding our friends and neighbors indefinitely in inhumane detention centers scattered across the United States,” Ocasio-Cortez said on her website. “Alex believes that if we are to uphold civic justice, we must abolish ICE and see to it that our undocumented neighbors are treated with the dignity and respect owed to all people, regardless of citizenship status.”