Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will co-chair a task force for Joe Biden’s campaign on climate change, a move that adds progressive credentials to the former vice president’s effort to unify the party ahead of the general election.
Ocasio-Cortez will work with former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State John Kerry, the panel’s other co-chair, in a group that also includes Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, the youth-led champions of the Green New Deal.
The task forces, which also cover health care, the economy, criminal justice and education, include a lineup of progressive leaders and top Biden campaign aides and allies. Sanders revealed plans to form the advisory panels when he dropped out of the presidential primary last month, a sign of both campaigns’ desire to form a united front against President Donald Trump and smooth over worries among Democrats that the party would splinter along ideological lines.
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“It’s no great secret out there, Joe, that you and I have our differences, and we’re not going to paper them over. That’s real,” Sanders said when he endorsed Biden in April. “But I hope that these task forces will come together utilizing the best minds and people in your campaign and in my campaign to work out real solutions to these very, very important problems.”
Biden echoed that in a statement Wednesday morning, with a special emphasis on the message he hopes the joint effort will send to factional Democrats.
“A united party is key to defeating Donald Trump this November and moving our country forward through an unprecedented crisis,” Biden said. “As we work toward our shared goal, it is especially critical that we not lose sight of the pressing issues facing Americans.”
Sanders commended Biden in his own statement for seeking out “the best ideas” and “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.”
Two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN that former President Barack Obama had been involved in the initial discussions about forming the task forces. A former top Sanders aide praised Biden’s team for its cooperation and said it did not reject any of the Sanders camp’s recommendations. In turn, the source said, the Sanders team chose its representatives carefully – steering clear of “bomb throwers” and focusing on experts, activists and lawmakers, like Ocasio-Cortez, with a sincere interest in collaboration.
The task forces will work toward issuing a list of recommendations to the Biden campaign in the next six weeks. Sanders’ team is hoping to influence the personnel decision that would accompany a potential Biden transition, the Democratic Party platform, which will be hashed out over the summer at its convention, the Biden campaign’s own policy prescriptions.
Analilia Mejia, the Sanders campaign’s former national political director, and Carmel Martin, from the Biden campaign, will be charged with the coordinating the six groups’ work.
The health care group will be co-chaired by Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a top congressional progressive and “Medicare for All” advocate, and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. The panel also includes Donald Berwick, who served as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Obama administration, and has written in defense of a single-payer health care system.
Sara Nelson, a progressive union leader, and California Rep. Karen Bass will co-chair the task force on the economy; Chiraag Bains and Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott will lead the criminal justice reform group; Heather Gautney and Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge will co-chair the education panel; and the task force on immigration will be headed up by Marielena Hincapié and California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard.
Other high profile additions include former Attorney General Eric Holder, a member of the criminal justice reform group, progressive economist Stephanie Kelton and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“I’m working with Bernie and with his people. And so, and we’ve made some changes. We’ve listened to Bernie supporters and, you know, for example, we have Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, she is on one of the panels,” Biden said Tuesday in an interview with News8 in Las Vegas.
Former Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir called the task forces “a structural path to allowing Progressives an opportunity to influence the Biden campaign” and praised the Biden campaign as “exceptionally willing to embrace the input of the Bernie campaign.”
“A lot of the Progressives that we have selected as part of this process, they have been really operated with open arms during the entire process,” Shakir told CNN.
Ocasio-Cortez spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said in a statement Tuesday night that the congresswoman made the decision to join the task force “with members of the Climate Justice community,” pledging that “she will be fully accountable to them and the larger advocacy community during this process.”
“She believes the movement will only be successful if we continue to apply pressure both inside and outside the system,” Hitt said. “This is just one element of the broader fight for just policies.”
Ocasio-Cortez had previously signaled that she would support Biden’s presidential bid in November but said that the process of uniting the party behind his campaign should be “uncomfortable for everyone involved.”
“And if Biden is only doing things he’s comfortable with, then it’s not enough,” she told The New York Times last month.
Instead of “throwing the progressive wing of the party a couple of bones,” Ocasio-Cortez said the conversation should be about “how we can win.”
This story has been updated with additional information about the task forces.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz contributed to this report