Senator Bernie Sanders, speaks during a campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. (Photographer: Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg )

Sanders Aligns With Ocasio-Cortez on Climate as Biden Surges

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is highlighting his alliance with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “Green New Deal” as he rallies progressive activists to try to blunt the momentum of Joe Biden in the nomination race.

Sanders called for urgent action on climate change at an event Monday in Washington organized by the Sunrise Movement, an activist group that aims to make the 2020 Democratic primary race a referendum on adoption of the far-reaching and costly climate-change proposal that’s been a signature issue for Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who was elected last November.

“The United States must lead the world with a global approach that emphasizes the Green New Deal,” Sanders, a Vermont senator, told the crowd at Howard University, “and when we do that we not only address the great environmental crisis of our time but we make millions of good paying jobs.”

The event was Sanders’ second appearance in less than a week with Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among progressives and young voters who Sanders is courting to help carry him through the months of primaries and caucuses that begin next year. Last Thursday, the two proposed legislation that would impose a limit of 15% on credit card interest rates and let post offices offer low-cost basic financial services like checking and savings accounts.

“She has really smartly associated herself with key issues like the climate crisis, income inequality and getting money out of politics,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who isn’t working for any of the Democratic contenders. “Her endorsement will be absolutely coveted.”

Poll Slide

Sanders has found himself dropping in recent polls since Biden formally announced his bid in April, offering himself as a centrist alternative to Sanders and the candidate best positioned to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

The Democratic candidates are under pressure to take a stand on climate, and groups like Sunrise Movement are trying to keep the issue at the top of the agenda. An April 30 CNN poll found that 82 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said it was very important for the next president to take aggressive action to slow climate change.

Sanders and other progressives have been criticizing Biden after an adviser to the former vice president told Reuters last week that his campaign would seek a middle ground on addressing the issue that would appeal both to environmentalists and blue-collar voters.

‘Middle Ground’

“There is no ‘middle ground’ when it comes to climate policy,” Sanders tweeted Friday. “If we don’t commit to fully transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, we will doom future generations.”

Biden was also the target of several speakers who also addressed the crowd at the climate event Monday.

Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the Ocasio-Cortez aligned activist group Justice Democrats, asked the crowd “I’m just curious, who here liked when Joe Biden said that he was middle of the road on climate policy?” Some in the audience booed. “That means that right now regardless of who you like during the 2020 presidential primary you need to be pushing and making sure that every young person, every working class community, is going out and talking about the issues that we care about,” Rojas said.

Ocasio-Cortez indirectly made reference to the remarks attributed to Biden’s adviser.

“So often when folks, particularly conservatives on both sides of the aisle say that calling for a green new deal is too much or too extreme or too radical” and that the “middle ground is right,” she said. “What do they mean by that?”

Speaking at a campaign event Monday in Hampton, New Hampshire, Biden promised to lay out his own plan by the end of May. He rejected the notion he is being too cautious or late to address the issue, saying he “was in this area long before anyone else was.”

He called for an “environmental revolution” to address a growing threat and said, “If we don’t act quickly we’re going to basically lose everything we have.”

A focal point for Democrats is the Green New Deal, mostly a collection of goals for mitigating climate change that was introduced in Congress by Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts. In addition to establishing a “net zero” goal for greenhouse gas emissions, it says it would create “millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.”

It has more than 100 Democratic cosponsors and it’s been embraced by many of the 21 Democrats running for president, including Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Kamala Harris of California and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Candidates including Biden, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado have not signed on.

It’s also been a target for Republicans, even as the party moves closer to adopting its own policies on climate change. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has denounced the Green New Deal as a “radical, top-down, socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy.”

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