Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic U.S. Representative candidate from New York, speaks during an event at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. (Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg)

Ocasio-Cortez Says It’s ‘Great’ to Be Underestimated by Critics

(Bloomberg) -- Freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defended her ambitious, progressive policy proposals and sometimes combative presence on social media as risky but worth it, saying it is “great” to be underestimated by her opponents.

In a wide-ranging interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, the youngest woman ever to be sworn into Congress stayed true to form by declaring President Donald Trump a racist and tweaking fellow Democrats who call some of her proposals unrealistic.

Ocasio-Cortez Says It’s ‘Great’ to Be Underestimated by Critics

The 29-year-old Bronx, New York, politician’s appearance on the venerable news show capped a weekend in which she continued to burnish her standing as a key voice for a new and diverse generation on issues from income equality to climate change. Her come-from-nowhere 2018 Democratic primary win and 3.5 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram have given the new lawmaker an electric presence in Washington.

She’d already grabbed headlines from the interview with the early release of remarks calling for a sharp tax hike on the highest incomes to fund a massive “Green New Deal.” That led to a weekend of Twitter exchanges with Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican.

‘Try Something New’

“Absolutely risky,” she conceded of some of her tactics. She angered even fellow Democrats when she encouraged primary challenges of party members who accept corporate money or oppose progressive policies.

“It requires risk to try something new,” she explained. “We know so much of -- of what we’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked, either.”

She also supports universal healthcare, tuition-free public college and massive government investment to combat climate change. During the interview, she laughed when asked if what she has in mind is the type of socialism found in the former Soviet Union, Cuba or Venezuela.

“Of course not. What we have in mind -- and what my -- and my policies most closely re-resemble (are) what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She bristled when questioned how to fund the programs.

‘Ambitious Policies’

“No one asks how we’re going to pay for this Space Force,” she said, referring to Trump’s proposed new branch of the U.S. military. “No one asked how we paid for a $2 trillion tax cut. We only ask how we pay for it on issues of housing, healthcare and education.”

“How do we pay for it? With the same exact mechanisms that we pay for military increases for this Space Force. For all of these -- ambitious policies.”

Ocasio-Cortez addressed those in her own party who worry that pushing for policies that some may deem unrealistic will make it harder for Democrats to make a credible case of governing again.

“What makes it unrealistic?” she asked. “We pay more per capita in healthcare and education for lower outcomes than many other nations. And so for me, what’s unrealistic is -- is what we’re living in right now.”

In her most contentious remarks in the interview Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged that she doesn’t talk much about Trump. “I think he’s a symptom of a problem,” she said.

“The president certainly didn’t invent racism. But he’s certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things,” she said. Asked directly if she believes he is a racist, she answered, “No question.”

‘Dog Whistles’

“When you look at the words that he uses, which are historic dog whistles of white supremacy. When you look at how he reacted to the Charlottesville incident, where neo-Nazis murdered a woman, versus how he manufactures crises like immigrants seeking legal refuge on our borders, it’s -- it’s night and day,” she said.

CBS said it contacted the White House about those comments before airing them, and that a spokesman responded that Trump has repeatedly condemned bigotry and racism in all forms.

Ocasio-Cortez described herself as someone who really understands the frustrations of working people, even amid an economy that appears to be operating at record levels.

“There’s a frustration that says, ‘Well, the economy’s good for who?’” she said. Noting she’s worked at the waitress and bartender, and like many members of her generation, had student loans to pay and no health insurance, she said unemployment at record-lows doesn’t “tell the whole story.”

She also dismissed those who suggest she does not know how the game is played in Washington. “It’s really great for people to keep thinking that,” she said. Underestimating her is how she won the primary in an upset win over longtime Democratic lawmaker Joe Crowley in a safe Democratic seat that meant her election to Congress was assured.

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