Ocasio-Cortez laments ‘sh– show’ of Congress
After three years on Capitol Hill, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has formulated a gloomy assessment of Congress and its inner workings, characterizing Washington’s legislative process as “a shit show” of missed opportunities and badly laid plans.
In a long and wide-ranging interview with The New Yorker’s David Remnick, Ocasio-Cortez — the most prominent voice of the far-left “Squad” — criticizes President Biden as unassertive, Republicans as undemocratic and the media as sensational.
But she reserves some of her harshest words for leaders in her own caucus, particularly when it comes to the process of devising legislative strategy.
“Honestly, it is a shit show. It’s scandalizing, every single day,” she told Remnick for the story, published on Monday.
“Some folks perhaps get used to it, or desensitized to the many different things that may be broken,” she added. “But there is so much reliance on this idea that there are adults in the room, and, in some respect, there are. But sometimes to be in a room with some of the most powerful people in the country and see the ways that they make decisions — sometimes they’re just susceptible to groupthink, susceptible to self-delusion.”
Ocasio-Cortez pointed to the debate surrounding the bipartisan infrastructure bill as it moved through Congress last year as an example. Initially, House liberals had blocked the Senate-passed proposal, insisting that the House first approve a separate and larger package — the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act — which includes a host of education, climate and family benefit programs at the center of Biden’s domestic agenda.
Yet after a months-long stalemate — and in the face of growing pressure from moderate Democrats in both chambers — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) altered course and brought the infrastructure bill to the floor alone. It marked a major victory for Biden, but the Build Back Better Act has been stalled ever since.
“People really just talk themselves into thinking that passing the infrastructure plan on that day, in that week, is the most singular important decision of the presidency, more than voting rights, more than the Build Back Better Act itself, which contains the vast majority of the president’s actual plan,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“You’re kind of sitting there in the room and watching people work themselves up into a decision. It’s a fascinating psychological moment that you’re watching unfold.”
Ocasio-Cortez declined to criticize Pelosi, or any other member of leadership, by name. But she seemed to welcome the coming generational change at the top of the party — across the board — whenever Pelosi and her top lieutenants decide to step aside.
“It’s not even just a question of the Speaker. It’s a question of our caucus,” she said. “I wish the Democratic Party had more stones. I wish our party was capable of truly supporting bold leadership that can address root causes.”
Ocasio-Cortez is no stranger to challenging the Democratic brass. She came to Congress in 2019 after a stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a 20-year veteran Democratic lawmaker whom she accused of being too cozy with lobbyists and other Washington insiders at the expense of working people. A year into Biden’s White House tenure, she’s shifting some of that criticism onto the president, saying he’s been too hesitant in using his executive authority in the face of congressional inaction.
“The President has not been using his executive power to the extent that some would say is necessary,” she charged.
Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate, saying certain things are, indeed, “outside of the president’s control.”
“But I think there are some things within the President’s control,” she added, “and his hesitancy around them has contributed to a situation that isn’t as optimal.”
As a start, Ocasio-Cortez is urging the president to move unilaterally to cancel some student loan debt — a move that would not only benefit the country economically, she argued, but help the Democrats in the coming midterm elections.
“It’s entirely within his power,” she said. “And I can’t underscore how much the hesitancy of the Biden Administration to pursue student-loan cancellation has demoralized a very critical voting block that the President, the House, and the Senate need in order to have any chance at preserving any of our majority.”
Ocasio-Cortez also had some sharp words for Republicans, accusing the GOP of exploiting the politics of white grievance, both in their effort to overturn former President Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat, and their opposition to new voting protections aimed at countering new state-based voting restrictions. If the Republicans have their way, she asserted, there’s “a very real risk” that the country will no longer be a democracy a decade from now.
“What we risk is having a government that perhaps postures as a democracy, and may try to pretend that it is, but isn’t,” she said.
“We’re never beyond hope,” she continued. “But we’ve already seen the opening salvos of this, where you have a very targeted, specific attack on the right to vote across the United States, particularly in areas where Republican power is threatened by changing electorates and demographics. You have white nationalist, reactionary politics starting to grow into a critical mass.”
In Washington and New York, there’s plenty of speculation swirling around Ocasio-Cortez’s future. Though just 32 years old, she’s among the most recognizable lawmakers in Congress — a social media superstar with a legion of liberal followers — fueling predictions that she might soon make a run for the Senate.
But if that’s her intent, Ocasio-Cortez is showing none of her cards, saying only that she’s constantly gauging how best to empower working people. That might lead her out of elected office and into activism, she granted. But she also emphasized that, for all her frustrations, there’s real value in the work happening each day in the Capitol.
“There are times when I’m cynical and … I’m just, like, ‘Man, maybe I should just, like, learn to grow my own food and teach other people how to do that!’” she told Remnick. “But I also reject the total cynicism that what’s happening here is fruitless.”
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