Much of that bickering stems from a debate over Democrats’ strategy around climate change: what their approach should look like and how aggressive it should be. Ocasio-Cortez and many other incoming freshmen made climate change a centerpiece of their campaigns, and they want to come out of the gate pushing for progress—protocol be damned. Ocasio-Cortez is urging her fellow Democrats to establish a “Green New Deal” committee, a 15-member operation that would be tasked with drafting a 10-year plan to neutralize the United States’ output of greenhouse-gas emissions and adopt 100 percent renewable electricity. The protest she attended in Pelosi’s office last week, organized by the environmental group Sunrise Movement, was focused on pushing for such a committee.
Read: After the midterms, a new politics of climate change
So far, 10 members of Congress have signed on to the plan, but several senior Democrats, including Frank Pallone, who is expected to take over as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, have criticized it. A new select committee, they argue, would take power away from existing committees and from experienced legislators who’ve been working on policies related to climate and energy for years. “We have very strong champions for addressing climate change—not only on my committee, but the other committees of jurisdiction—that are going to move very aggressively on the issue of climate change,” Pallone, who represents New Jersey, told reporters last week. “So I don’t think it’s necessary to have a special committee.”
Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s incoming chief of staff and a co-founder of the progressive political-action committee Justice Democrats, denied that incoming progressives want to take power from anyone. “We think climate change is important enough to get its own select committee,” he told me. “It would be in addition to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction.”
But several Democratic staffers I talked with, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly, expressed their agreement with Pallone. Experimenting with committee structure just as the Democrats are reclaiming the House majority is “not the most informed choice,” said one House leadership aide. Of course, the aide added, the new members’ excitement is understandable—they just “haven’t learned how everything works yet.”
“While I think it’s fun she’s shaking things up,” said another Democratic staffer, “there are reasons there are committees and jurisdiction.” The move, he added, could “actually weaken [Pallone’s] committee.”
The discussion surrounding the select committee is just a small squabble, one that is hardly acrimonious and that involves an issue most Democrats seem dedicated to. And the focus on the few more outspoken progressive freshmen, such as Ocasio-Cortez, is disproportionate to the amount of power they’ll actually have in the House.