The following is a transcript of an interview with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that aired Sunday, October 3, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. These are interesting times here in Washington. We’re used to the political battles being back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, but today we find ourselves in an increasingly polarized debate between Democrats: the factions within the party, the progressives or liberals, and the moderates. We asked some of the key moderates on both sides of Congress to join us this morning, and they didn’t take us up on our invitation. But we do begin today with a key progressive, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Congresswoman, it is great to have you here in studio.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Great to be here. Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you have this standoff right now. How real is the risk that the Democrats end up with nothing?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I know that- You know, I believe that the entire party is committed in delivering for- for this country. And I know that our caucus, the House Democratic caucus, is entirely focused on delivering for this country. But I think the question that we’re having right now, and the reason why we are having this discussion right now, is because we don’t want to leave communities behind. And all too often, D.C. politics, you know, when we have to make a compromise, the folks that get compromised are lower income, working class families. It’s health care, it’s relief, it’s communities of color. And we want to make sure that we’re fighting for all of us, not just some of us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which is why you’re using your leverage right now to hold up the other trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. But the head of your caucus, the progressive caucus, was on another network this morning and Rep. Jayapal said $1.5 trillion is just too small. That’s the number that Senate moderates, Joe Manchin in particular, want to get down to. President Biden, according to our reporting from Ed O’Keefe, our correspondent, says you’re going to have to settle for about $2 trillion. Is that an acceptable ceiling for you?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: So here’s- here’s where I think the problem is. It’s that when we talk about top line numbers, there’s a lot that is- is hidden in that discussion. And so the reason why this- this conversation shouldn’t be about numbers, but it should be about what substantive programs are- are willing to be excluded or
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s coming from the White House.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, but the White House isn’t making the demands to exclude universal childcare or universal pre-K. This is coming for the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party. And those are- but those are the conversations that we need to have, because the thing is, is that Washington math is notoriously funny and you can make a $3 trillion- you can make a $1 trillion bill into $2 trillion, you can make a $3 trillion bill that helps fewer people, etc. And so that’s why we really need to talk about the substance of this. The budget bill that House progressives are trying to fight for, the Biden Build Back Better agenda, includes universal pre-K, free community college, expansion of Medicare, we’re fighting for expansion of Medicaid. And these are the things that we are saying, in addition to the very real climate threat that we have, emissions reductions, are worth standing up for.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So- but a $2 trillion ceiling, that means you’re going to have to maneuver here somewhere. The head of your caucus said this morning you’re looking at shorter funding periods for programs. So instead of chopping, sort of nipping and tucking.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, yes–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, what is non-negotiable there for you?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: So, you know, you bring up an excellent point, in that the fact is- is that we do have to compromise with- with- with the fact that we have Sens. Manchin and Sinema, who refuse to support certain programs for working families. And so, the compromises and options that we have before us is do we shorten our funding programs? Do you reduce the level of funding? Do you cut programs out together? I think that one of the ideas that out there is fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, you fully fund it for five years or you fully fund it–
MARGARET BRENNAN: What are you thinking of when you throw that out as an example?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: So I think, you know, I think there’s a- there’s so many different programs in the budget bill. First of all, I think it’s unfortunate that we have to, even as Democrats have a discussion about not having a child tax credit. I think it’s unfortunate that we- we have to compromise with ourselves for an ambitious agenda for working people. I believe that free community college should be- it should be a standard, it should- we should have K through 14. But this is one bill and perhaps we can vote for more down the line, and we’ve discussed with the president about that, continuing that funding. But there’s a- there’s a wide variety of those programs, and I would encourage folks in their community to also reach out to their elected officials to let them know what programs they want to make sure are kept. But I think there are some things that are- that are that are very, very important to us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What’s your- for you. What is non-negotiable?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I think some of- some of the climate provisions that we have, we cannot afford to increase carbon or just fossil fuel emissions at this time. That is simply the science. That is not something we can kick down the line. Right now, both the IPCC report saying that this is code red for humanity, as well as recent reporting, saying that if you’re under 40, like myself, like millions of Americans, you’ll be seeing a catastrophic increase–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re going to run right into Senator Joe Manchin on those issues though, you know that.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. And I think- I think Senator Manchin is going to run to the science as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, what do you think that means? And he also has said for him, this bill will be dead on arrival if it does not include the Hyde amendment, which would ban federal funding for abortion.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: So, I think what we’re seeing here is a dynamic where progressives are trying to skin this cat nine different ways, but moderates are not really coming to the table. And I don’t even want to call them moderates because there’s a lot of moderates in the party that don’t like being associated with- with some of this hard-line tactics. It’s- it’s a very tiny contra of- of conservative Democrats. But- but I mean, this is the issue is that we’re saying, OK, we’re going down from six trillion to three trillion. Now it’s one trillion and we have some these conservatives that say, well, our line is zero and you’re lucky if you get one. And this isn’t- I want to ground this conversation because this isn’t a tit for tat between personality- and it’s not about me and Senator Manchin. It’s about families in the Bronx. This is about people who need to take their bus- take a bus to drop their kid off at school, and they’re not going to be able to go back to work because they don’t have childcare to go back to work.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but it is a question about the vision for the Democratic Party. And last year, you were very, very frank during the presidential race, you said. In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not even be in the same party, but in America, we are. Has Joe Biden proved himself progressive enough for you now?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, you know, I think- and- and those comments are- are- are referring to parliamentary systems in other countries where there’s a lot more diversity. We don’t have a two party duopoly in other countries the way that we do in ours, but I think that President Biden has been a good faith partner to the entire Democratic Party. He is in fact a moderate and we disagree on certain issues. But he- he reaches out and he actually tries to understand our perspective, and that is why I am fighting for his agenda with the Build Back Better Act.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you surprised, though, that he hasn’t been able to deliver those Senate moderates that you’re having those problems with?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: No. No, I think that for quite some time we have seen that some of these conservatives in the party. You know, this is not about a team, it’s about, you know, individual sort of preferences. But that is OK. You know, we’re going to come together. I believe in the vision and commitment of our party for working people. And the thing is, is that we have to respect all families and all voters.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Lastly, just, you know, these moderates in the house as well, not just Senator Manchin would say, you’re not playing for the team when you hold one bill hostage, as they would say for the other, and put a bill that has roads and bridges and jobs potentially at risk.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, the agreement several months ago to even proceed on that one bipartisan bill was that it was tied with- with our larger build back, better agenda. And the reason when some folks say, Well, why can’t you just pass this, and we’ll see everything else later? First of all, we do not. Both of these bills need to pass. Both will not pass if they- if people try to separate them, if we try to diverge from that agreement that was settled several months ago. We can’t simply invent new terms mid-stream and then expect everyone else that those initial terms to hold. I’m willing to hold up my end of the bargain by sticking to both. And we want all we need to expect all of our lawmakers who are part of that deal to stick to that bargain.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, thanks for coming in today. Thank you so much.