AOC: ‘America’s Back’ as a Leader on Climate

AOC: ‘America’s Back’ as a Leader on Climate
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at COP26 (Photo: Ian Forsyth, Getty Images)

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Less than a week after standing with her progressive counterparts against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is presenting a united front with Democrats at the UN climate talks in Glasgow. The Congresswoman is in Scotland as part of a delegation of U.S. House representatives that arrived as the UN talks entered their crucial second week and international delegates work to hammer out a global deal.

One of the first public events scheduled for AOC when she touched down in Scotland was a public panel with Reps. Joe Neguse, Veronica Escobar, Mike Levin, and Sean Casten, all Democrats who had also just landed in Glasgow. At the panel, the Congresswoman had what is, for her, a somewhat surprising message.

“America’s back — at COP, on the international stage as a leader in climate action and drawdown,” she said.

AOC went on to talk about the intersections of climate change, Indigenous and racial justice, and fossil fuel influence she observed before she ran for Congress while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. She also discussed how she now sees those themes reflected in the climate program the Biden administration is bringing to the international stage. The U.S. is “not just back” at its first COP after the Trump era, she said. “We’re different, and we’re more just, and we’re more open to questioning what is politically possible.”

Never exactly a shrinking violet on the Hill, AOC has not been shy about criticising what many progressives see as a completely inadequate set of climate policies that are being hammered out on the Hill. She was one of six House members, including all members of the Squad, who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, passed by the House late last week, that was separated from the Build Back Better Act after some moderate Democrats expressed financial concerns about that bill.

In an Instagram live on Sunday, AOC explained that voting for the infrastructure bill, which would lock in emissions increases thanks to the expansions of bridges, roads, and other shipping networks, without voting for the climate measures in the Build Back Better Act made her uneasy. “I cannot vote to increase our emissions without a commitment to draw them down,” she said.

But the Democrats as a whole must have a pretty fire climate group chat going, with an urgent message that’s arisen above all the intra-party fighting: show the world in Glasgow that the U.S. has its shit together. They seem to realise that the U.S. can’t say it’s a climate leader while seeming like a total mess at home. Like Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who told Earther Saturday that Build Back Better was “very close” to passing and that any outstanding issues were not climate-related, all five Democrats on Tuesday’s panel, including AOC, expressed confidence that it would soon become law, and that the U.S. can feasibly claim the victory it needs to put on a good front for the world here in Glasgow.

When we pass the Build Back Better Act — I’m going to claim it, when,” AOC said at one point during the panel, eliciting some cheers from the crowd for the confidence that the legislation would clear Washington’s partisan gridlock.

Despite AOC’s compliments, there’s a host of Indigenous and Black and brown leaders who would absolutely question the Biden administration’s commitments to the themes she talked about, as well as how the U.S. is conducting itself at the talks. And, never to be simply a cheerleader for the most progressive climate administration of all time, AOC signalled that the U.S. still has work to do.

“We have not recovered our moral authority [on climate],” she said during the panel. “We have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect and authority internationally. We have to draw down emissions to get credit for being committed on climate change. It’s really that simple.”