The Washington Post was the first to report that the rising progressive star planned to back the senator. HuffPost has confirmed the endorsement, which will be publicly announced at a rally in New York on Saturday.
Sanders has faced questions about his health and fitness during the 2020 race after suffering a heart attack earlier this month, although he moved to downplay those fears with his energetic performance during the fourth Democratic debate in Ohio on Tuesday.
“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” Sanders said during the debate, thanking supporters and fellow candidates for their words of support. “I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I’m so happy to be back here with you this evening.”
The endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez, who got her start in politics volunteering for Sanders in the 2016 primary, is a major political win for Sanders, and one of the most coveted of the 2020 cycle. It provides a welcome jolt to Sanders’ campaign as he tries to arrest his flagging position in the polls and reassure voters nervous about his health.
It is also a setback for his progressive rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has prided herself on having a knack for relationship-building. Warren had worked to develop a rapport with Ocasio-Cortez, joining her in, among other things, social media appearances such as a lighthearted discussion of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
Representative for Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, a fellow freshman progressive, announced that she was endorsing Sanders on Tuesday night as well.
When she was elected in November, Omar became one of the first two Muslim women to serve in the U.S. Congress. She is liable to serve as a surrogate for Sanders to a faith community with whom he did exceptionally well in key states like Michigan in 2016.
In a statement announcing her endorsement, Omar cited her work with Sanders on legislation eliminating student debt, making public school meals free, adopting a more humane immigration policy and ending the United States’ “forever wars.”
“Bernie is leading a working class movement to defeat Donald Trump that transcends generation, ethnicity, and geography,” Omar said. “And it’s why I believe Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump in 2020.”
Omar might also have mentioned that Sanders, who would be the first Jewish president if elected, was one of her first and most ardent defenders when she faced allegations of employing anti-Semitic rhetoric in February.
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate,” he said in a statement. “That’s wrong.”
CNN reported that Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim woman elected to Congress in 2018, plans to throw her support behind Sanders on Saturday as well, though the Sanders campaign declined to confirm it. A spokesperson for Tlaib did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s unclear who the final member of “the Squad” of four liberal congresswomen, Ayanna Pressley will support. Pressley, who previously served eight years on the Boston City Council, has a more conventional pedigree than the other Squad members and a history of taking less radical stances on matters like US policy toward Israel.
Sanders remains a front-runner in the Democratic race, and his campaign reported more than $25 million in campaign donations in the third quarter of 2019.
But the Vermont senator has been dropping in the polls, and all eyes were on Warren during Tuesday’s debate in Ohio.
This article has been updated with more details on the endorsements and background about the congresswomen.