The rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019

The rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019
© Greg Nash

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez to voters: Tell McConnell 'he is playing with fire' with Ginsburg's seat Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal Why Democrats must confront extreme left wing incitement to violence MORE (D-N.Y.) arrived in the nation’s capital in January, quickly advocating for the progressive policy promises that propelled her to stardom on the left.

In her first full year in office, Ocasio-Cortez has introduced major proposals to spearhead change on climate, labor and housing issues. But the freshman lawmaker has proven herself more than a wonk in her time in Washington. After defeating former 10-time incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) last year in the primary, she’s remained a force among even the most prominent Washington figures. 

Ocasio-Cortez has gone head-to-head with top leaders inside the Beltway and served as a linchpin endorsement for others. From the Green New Deal to her now-viral questioning of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE’s former attorney Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenA huge deal for campaign disclosure: Trump's tax records for Biden's medical records Our Constitution is under attack by Attorney General William Barr Eric Trump says he will comply with New York AG's subpoena only after Election Day MORE, The Hill breaks down Ocasio-Cortez’s first year as a lawmaker: 


Introducing the Green New Deal:

The Green New Deal was originally popularized by the youth climate activist group the Sunrise Movement, although the proposal has become synonymous with Ocasio-Cortez. After arriving at freshman orientation for newly elected members of Congress in 2018, Ocasio-Cortez joined the group’s protest calling for the plan outside of House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs families deal with coronavirus, new federal dollars should follow the student Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates Hypocrisy rules on both sides over replacing Justice Ginsburg MORE's (D-Calif.) office. 

At the time, Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter, the platform where she has amassed more than 6 million followers and regularly addresses constituents and supporters. She shared, “This morning 100s of young people came together to ask us as elected officials to act urgently to draft a Green New Deal that gets us to 100% renewable energy ASAP. They asked me to join them, and I did. We can embrace the energy of activism to move our party’s goals forward.”


After she was sworn into office at the beginning of the year, Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution titled “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal,” which has a stated goal of creating millions of “good high-wage jobs” with a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. 

It calls for a slate of environmental initiatives, including updating “smart” power grids, supporting family farming, guaranteeing universal access to clean drinking water and investments in high-speed railroads.

The initiative suffered a defeat in March after the Senate voted to block the Green New Deal resolution introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySchumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Democrats see fundraising spike following Ginsburg death Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy MORE (D-Mass.). The body voted 0-57 on taking up the resolution, with 43 Democrats voting present. 

But in July, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSocial Security and Medicare are on the ballot this November Harris honors Ginsburg, visits Supreme Court The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump and Biden vie for Minnesota | Early voting begins in four states | Blue state GOP governors back Susan Collins MORE (D-Calif.) unveiled legislation that could serve as the first move toward implementing the Green New Deal across the country. The bill, dubbed the Climate Equity Act, would require the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to evaluate how new environmental bills could impact low-income communities. 

It would also create a new federal office to represent the views of communities most affected by climate change, according to a statement from Ocasio-Cortez at the time.

Additionally, in November, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNYT editorial board remembers Ginsburg: She 'will forever have two legacies' Two GOP governors urge Republicans to hold off on Supreme Court nominee Sanders knocks McConnell: He's going against Ginsburg's 'dying wishes' MORE (I-Vt.) announced a “Green New Deal for Housing,” a $180 billion plan that seeks to repair and retrofit public housing units with a goal of eliminating all carbon emissions

Since its official introduction, the Green New Deal in its many forms has made waves among other top politicians in Washington. 

Trump went after Ocasio-Cortez’s signature legislation earlier this year, calling it “preposterous” and saying it will be “easy to beat” in a March interview with Fox Business. But the landmark climate legislation has been adopted by most of the top-tier Democratic 2020 presidential candidates, according to NPR.  

Endorsing Sen. Sanders in the 2020 Democratic Primary:  

Ocasio-Cortez threw her support behind Sanders in October among the crowded slate of 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls.

The freshman lawmaker told supporters that Sanders inspired her own decision to enter progressive politics.

“It wasn’t until I heard of a man by the name of Bernie Sanders that I began to question and assert and recognize my inherent value as a human being that deserves health care, housing, education and a living wage,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the time.

She also credited him with inspiring her to launch a primary bid against longtime Democratic lawmaker Crowley, saying “I’m proud to say the only reason I had any hope in launching a long-shot campaign for Congress is because Bernie Sanders proved you can run a grassroots campaign and win in an America where we almost thought it was impossible.”

Ocasio-Cortez was joined in her endorsement by two fellow members of “the squad,” the nickname that developed last year to describe the progressive group of four congresswomen made up of Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleySan Francisco considers changing local voting age to 16 Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy MORE (D-Mass.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarDemocrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Larry Kudlow defends response to coronavirus: Trump 'led wisely' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Woodward book revelations rock Washington MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibGeorge Conway: 'Trump is like a practical joke that got out of hand' Pelosi endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary challenge The Democratic Party platform represents our big tent MORE (D-Mich.).

Pressley was the only lawmaker in the group to instead endorse Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenGOP set to release controversial Biden report Biden's fiscal program: What is the likely market impact? Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt MORE (D-Mass.), which Ocasio-Cortez later responded to with a heart emoji on Twitter. 


Going head-to-head with Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t shy away from spats with lawmakers on her side of the aisle in 2019, butting heads with Pelosi over immigration policy in a weeks-long controversy this summer. 

Ocasio-Cortez and the fellow members of the squad split with Pelosi after she accepted a Senate version of a border bill that excluded specific protections for migrants in detention. After the vote, Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti, who departed her office this year, tweeted accusing the centrist members of the Blue Dog and New Democrat Coalitions of being racist. 


Pelosi then hit back, responding in a rare closed-door meeting where she told Democratic lawmakers “You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it.”

"But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK,” Pelosi added.

Just hours later, Ocasio-Cortez accused Pelosi of the "explicit singling out of newly elected women of color” in an interview with The Washington Post, although she later denied that she believed the Speaker is “racist."

Pelosi responded in an interview with The New York Times, saying that the squad has “their public whatever and their Twitter world,” and that “They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

But by the end of July, the House Speaker and Ocasio-Cortez held a 30-minute huddle in the Capitol, where the lawmakers reportedly spoke about "an array of issues" related to Ocasio-Cortez's position on the Financial Services and the Oversight and Reform committees. Pelosi shared a photo of the two after the meeting, saying that they “sat down to discuss working together to meet the needs of our districts, fairness in our economy and diversity in our country.”

Responding to President Trump’s attacks:

Amid the conflict with Pelosi, Trump lashed out at the squad in a set of controversial tweets that sparked immediate backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

“So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run," Trump tweeted. "Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

All of the members of the squad were born in the U.S. except for Omar, and the president’s critics quickly condemned the series of tweets as racist.

Ocasio-Cortez slammed Trump over the tweets and criticized the migrant detention centers along the southern border.

“Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ & the country we all swear to, is the United States,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “But given how you’ve destroyed our border with inhumane camps, all at a benefit to you & the corps who profit off them, you are absolutely right about the corruption laid at your feet.”

Just days after Trump shared the tweets, House Democrats introduced a resolution condemning the move, which passed in a 240-187 vote. Four GOP lawmakers challenged their party and voted for the resolution — Reps. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksHouse Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts Stefanik credits Trump for spike in GOP women running for office DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program MORE (Ind.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program 2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do MORE (Pa.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHillicon Valley: Oracle confirms deal with TikTok to be 'trusted technology provider' | QAnon spreads across globe, shadowing COVID-19 | VA hit by data breach impacting 46,000 veterans House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts MORE (Texas) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOn Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Progressives soaring after big primary night MORE (Mich.). 

Grilling Michael Cohen:  

Ocasio-Cortez also went viral this year over her questioning of Trump’s former attorney, Cohen. 

Cohen publicly testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February. He was sentenced to prison last year after pleading guilty to financial crimes and campaign finance violations, and he is currently serving a three-year term. 

But Ocasio-Cortez’s line of questioning during his testimony quickly led to Trump’s finances and tax returns. As Ocasio-Cortez zeroed in on the president’s financial information, Cohen alleged that Trump has previously lied about the worth of his assets.

Ocasio-Cortez quickly retorted, “Where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?"

“Yes, and you'd find it at the Trump Org," Cohen replied. Her questions also prompted Cohen to claim that Trump lowered his local real estate tax bills.

Trump has long refused to release his complete previous tax returns, and House Democrats have launched a months-long lawsuit to obtain the financial information from New York state officials.

But the lawmaker later revealed that she didn’t rely on newly acquired skills as a lawmaker during the questioning. Ocasio-Cortez, who worked as a bartender before her congressional bid, tweeted after the testimony that her former gig had taught her important lessons.

“Bartending + waitressing (especially in NYC) means you talk to 1000s of people over the years. Forces you to get great at reading people + hones a razor-sharp BS detector. Just goes to show that what some consider to be 'unskilled labor' can actually be anything but,” she tweeted.