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Can’t Assume Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Is ‘Some Great National Message,’ Warns Chris Dodd

Chris Dodd addresses the audience at CinemaCon 2015 on April 21, 2015, in Las Vegas. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) warned Democrats to “be careful with over-reading” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).

PJM asked Dodd if he thinks Ocasio-Cortez’s “democratic socialist” policy proposals are beneficial for the future of the Democratic Party.

“She represents the Bronx – 25,000 people voted. She did a great job. She’s articulate – an attractive candidate, in my view, but again we always want to read a lot more into national implications with very minor examples. In a district of 750,000 people with a difference of 3,000 votes, I would be careful with over-reading, one way or another,” Dodd said Wednesday after a panel discussion with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on paid family leave at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Had Joe Crowley won, would we be drawing the same conclusion that the Bronx had turned into this moderate Democratic constituency? I don’t think so. I would be careful with the alternative in suggesting somehow that the Bronx, in that district, have become socialists. Obviously, some may be, but the idea that this is some great national message, I think people need to be careful about that,” he added.

During the panel discussion with Santorum, Dodd, who sponsored the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), said it’s time for Congress to pass a paid family leave program.

“The country is way ahead of Washington,” Dodd said, adding that more states are starting to consider paid family leave legislation. “We really need to have a consistent policy.”

Santorum said his position of paid family leave has evolved since passage of the FMLA.

“One of the most effective arguments the left has for immigration is we are not replacing ourselves, and you can’t have a growing economy and vibrant economy with a declining population; it’s a very hard thing to do,” he said. “So there’s all sorts of demographic reasons and social science and health science research that really do point to the need to rescue the family situation in America today. It didn’t exist in such stark terms 25 years ago.”

Santorum said the most receptive voters within the GOP are faith-based and social conservative groups.

“They see the devastation of the family. They see the devastation with children being raised in homes where there’s a single mom and she can’t connect and the child is in daycare. And you see all this research about the importance of bonding and the importance of parents reading and vocabulary with their children – all of these things single moms could do if they are home but can’t do because they are separated. And I think that is a very compelling case,” he said.

Santorum explained that he would prefer to see more private companies offer paid family leave, but said most of the private sector is falling short.

“I would love the private sector to do this, but they are not doing it. The evidence is pretty clear that the companies that have done this, around the world companies have done this for a long time, but that this is a positive thing for companies to do. But they are not doing it,” he said.

Dodd, former CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, noted that more Americans under 35 years of age are working as independent contractors and argued they would benefit from a national paid family leave program.

“They don’t work in the traditional settings that we did,” he said. “They can’t rely, necessarily, on a benevolent employer.”

Santorum predicted that a significant part of the upcoming debate on family leave between Democrats and Republicans would be deciding how much of the program should be funded with federal resources.

During the event, first daughter Ivanka Trump, senior advisor to President Trump, said Washington isn’t a city that “rewards compromise” but she remains hopeful about paid family leave passing in Congress. Trump was asked why she thinks paid family leave would garner enough bipartisan support to pass.

“Because I’m an optimist,” she said. “That’s the only way you get things done.”

Trump said paid family leave would help prevent the U.S. from going down the same path as other countries where there are not enough children to support the “social system.” She also said paid family leave is a key component to supporting the evolving “family structure.” She described her message to lawmakers on both sides of aisle about the issue.

“Don’t shut down the conversation while it’s gaining momentum,” she said.