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Ocasio-Cortez tiptoes into Washington

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© Provided by The Hill

By Mike Lillis and Melanie Zanona, The Hill

There was no uproar, no media circus, no public pronouncements - not even a tweet.

Rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez paid a very quiet visit to the nation's capital on Tuesday, marking the first face-to-face meetings with liberal supporters on Capitol Hill since her remarkable primary victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) last month.

The visit was not intended to make any waves, as Ocasio-Cortez adopted an under-the-radar approach that was clearly a strategic effort to avoid the limelight - no simple feat for an overnight political megastar with more than 740,000 Twitter followers.

Instead, in a busy morning of back-to-back meetings, Ocasio-Cortez huddled separately with Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who together head the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).

[post_ads]Afterward, the Democrat, clad in a tan blazer and wearing ankle boots and round-rimmed glasses, grabbed an hourlong lunch with liberal Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) at Tortilla Coast, a Tex-Mex institution near Capitol Hill.

In a brief interview outside the restaurant, an animated Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill the visit was designed simply to "get the lay of the land" in Washington, where she is likely headed next year given that she is widely expected to win her heavily Democratic New York district in November.

Ocasio-Cortez had angered some Democrats following her victory when she suggested Crowley, who had quickly endorsed her candidacy, was mounting a third-party run against her - a charge Crowley denied.

She also ruffled some feathers after endorsing a handful of liberal primary candidates who are challenging Democratic incumbents.

Since that flare-up, Ocasio-Cortez has spoken with Crowley and other Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). She declined to provide details of the call with Crowley, who confirmed to The Hill he had spoken with the Democratic candidate last week.

Hoyer said Tuesday that he had urged Ocasio-Cortez to help the party achieve their chief goal: winning back control of the House in November.

"I urged her to work towards that end," he said, "and I think she has an understanding that everybody does not have the district she has."

Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill Tuesday that she's on board and is working at "translating" her own victory to other Democrats around the country.

Indeed, last week she took her celebrity to Wichita, Kan., where she stumped for a liberal Democratic hopeful alongside another progressive superstar: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

In Sanders's mold, Ocasio-Cortez has proudly called herself a democratic socialist and vowed to fight unapologetically for liberal causes like single-payer health care, debt-free college and the elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But that has led to some concerns that she will become the left-wing version of the House Freedom Caucus - a small group of far-right lawmakers whose uncompromising tactics have cleaved the Republican conference for years.

"I'd like to know why you're running against a Lacy Clay, for example, and a Stephanie Murphy - before you even get here - when we're trying to win back the House," Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday, referring to two incumbent Democrats facing liberal primary opponents endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez.

"We should be on the same team; and I think when she gets here, we will be on the same team."

Ocasio-Cortez defended her endorsements on Tuesday, noting she's been backing the same liberal candidates for months. It is not "a new or an aggressive action," she told The Hill.

Khanna was the only member of Congress to endorse Ocasio-Cortez's long-shot bid to topple Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. And after Tuesday's lunch, he said he'd offered her some simple advice: "Be authentic to her vision."

"She has so much passion, and [I told her] to pick some of those issues and really lead on them from day one and not to be told to keep her head down or be a backbencher, but to come here and lead," Khanna said.

"I think she's going to be received with great enthusiasm."

Meanwhile, Grijalva, a leading progressive and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said he had congratulated Ocasio-Cortez on her win and welcomed her to Congress during the 40-minute sit-down in his office.

"It was an introductory meeting," he told reporters.

Afterward, the pair exchanged cellphone numbers, and some of Grijalva's staff came in to take pictures with Ocasio-Cortez.

But before Ocasio-Cortez left, Grijalva, an eight-term congressman, gave the 28-year-old Latina candidate some sage advice: be yourself.

"Being genuine here is as important as anywhere else," Grijalva said. "I think she'll figure it out."

Ocasio-Cortez also paid a visit to Pocan's fourth-floor office in the Longworth House Office Building, where they talked about everything from the decoration on his office walls to her strategy when she arrives in Congress.

Pocan, who expects Ocasio-Cortez to join the Progressive Caucus, said they also discussed her fundraising efforts for progressive candidates and which committees she'd like to eventually join.
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"She's thinking very strategically, which is great," Pocan told The Hill. "We started having conversations thinking ahead about what are the next steps."

To cap off the flurry of office visits, Ocasio-Cortez had lunch with Khanna at Tortilla Coast, which is well-known as a stomping ground for the Freedom Caucus.

Ocasio-Cortez recently floated the idea of forming a liberal equivalent of the far-right group. The conservative band of bomb-throwers has been successful at bending the GOP to its will by voting as a unified bloc in Congress.

The rise of progressive candidates like Ocasio-Cortez has also drawn comparisons to the 2010 Tea Party wave that propelled the GOP back to power in the House, eventually paving the way for the Freedom Caucus.

But Khanna, for one, dismissed the notion that Ocasio-Cortez would be a divisive figure.

"She's very interested in building relationships," Khanna said. "She wouldn't be in D.C. meeting with different members of Congress if she weren't."

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