AOC joins Biden's climate policy panel

"I think we're going to have a very united party," former Vice President Biden told a Las Vegas news outlet about his plans to bring in Bernie Sanders supporters.
Image: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez
Freshman Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks to journalists near the US Capitol on Jan. 4, 2019.Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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By Sahil Kapur, Marianna Sotomayor and Phil Helsel

Progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will co-chair a panel advising Joe Biden on climate policy as the apparent Democratic nominee takes steps to unify the party, it was announced on Wednesday.

Biden said that Ocasio-Cortez is on one of the six policy panels in comments to Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV on Tuesday, when the former vice president was asked what he was doing to bring supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders into the fold.

"We've made some changes, we've listened to the Bernie supporters and, you know, for example, we have congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, she is on one of the panels as well," Biden said. "And so I think we're going to have a very united party."

In a joint statement announcing participants of the six “Unity Task Forces” released by Biden and Sanders on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez is listed as a co-chair of the climate change task force along with Biden endorser, former Secretary of State John Kerry. The former 2004 presidential candidate and senator notably created the Paris Climate Agreement struck between numerous countries under the Obama administration.

Ocasio-Cortez, who had endorsed Bernie Sanders months before he dropped out of the race in April, will be serving as Sanders' representative on the committee convened by Biden dealing with climate policy, her spokeswoman said.

"She made the decision with members of the Climate Justice community — and she will be fully accountable to them and the larger advocacy community during this process," spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said in an email.

Hitt said that Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., "believes the movement will only be successful if we continue to apply pressure both inside and outside the system," and added that "this is just one element of the broader fight for just policies.”

Other notable names serving on that task force are healthcare co-chairs Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and former Obama era Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who has briefed Biden daily on the covid-19 pandemic. The Obama administration’s Attorney General Eric Holder will serve on criminal justice, which is chaired by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., whose SAFE Justice Act Biden has long championed on the campaign trail.

The six task forces were created last month after Sanders formally dropped out of the race to ensure that Biden could win over key coalitions of his progressive supporters as he mobilizes to beat President Donald Trump with a united Democratic front. The groups will meet ahead of the Democratic National Convention to shape policy for the convention platform committee and Biden’s agenda.

“A united party is key to defeating Donald Trump this November and moving our country forward through an unprecedented crisis. As we work toward our shared goal, it is especially critical that we not lose sight of the pressing issues facing Americans,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday.

Sanders echoed the sentiment, commending Biden “for working together with my campaign to assemble a group of leading thinkers and activists who can and will unify our party in a transformational and progressive direction."

Sanders, I-Vt., ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on April 8, and at the time the pledged to have significant influence over the party platform. Sanders went on to officially endorse Biden for president less than a week later.

Biden, in the Tuesday interview with KLAS, which was done over the internet amid the coronavirus pandemic, referenced the Sanders' endorsement.

The former vice president also seemed to suggest that Sanders' supporters may have gotten the wrong idea about his positions during the campaign.

"My message to all — and what they're finding out now that the nomination process is de facto over, they're finding out the positions I had on an awful lot of things were not accurately characterized and they're feeling more comfortable with it," Biden said. "But I'm listening. I'm here, I need them, and I hope they all will join us."

Since Sanders’ departure from the race Biden has extended multiple olive branches to his supporters, adopting policies on healthcare and education and hashing out a deal that ensures Sanders’ earned delegates are represented on the convention floor in August.

Although Sanders suspended his campaign, he remains on the ballot in primaries. On Tuesday Biden easily defeated Sanders in the Nebraska Democratic primary, NBC News projected. The win padded Biden's delegate count tally to 1,490 of the 1,991 needed to secure the nomination.