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“Call me a radical”: Highlights from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s big "60 Minutes" interview

by Rex Santus
Jan 7 2019, 3:49pm

In her first long-form televised interview, on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embraced the “radical” label and gave her thoughts on someone she rarely talks about: President Donald Trump.

The democratic socialist from New York, who’s a rising star in the Democratic Party, detailed some of her proposals for taxation, her childhood in the Bronx and Westchester County, and ongoing tensions with the party establishment.

Simultaneously a darling of the progressive left and a target of constant attacks from centrists and conservatives, Ocasio-Cortez is frequently dismissed by critics as a naive young woman who doesn’t know how to “play the game,” noted correspondent Anderson Cooper.

“I think it's really great for people to keep thinking that,” the 29-year-old former bartender said.

“You want folks to underestimate you?” Cooper responded.

“Absolutely,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That's how I won my primary,” before she unseated one of the House’s most powerful Democrats.

Here are the highlights of Ocasio-Cortez’s interview.

She thinks Trump is a racist

“I think he's a symptom of a problem,” Ocasio-Cortez told Cooper in the Sunday-night segment when he asked why she doesn’t talk about him much.

When asked if she believed the president is a racist, Ocasio-Cortez said: “Yeah. No question.”

Cooper asked her to elaborate.

“When you look at the words that he uses, which are historic dogwhistles of white supremacy,” she said. “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 wants a 60-70 percent tax rate on America’s hyper-rich

One of the more controversial moments in the interview came when Ocasio-Cortez said she may seek to finance progressive ideals like universal healthcare, tuition-free public education, and a Green New Deal with a marginal tax of 60 or 70 percent for people who make beyond $10 million.

The clip immediately became fodder for conservatives who warned that Ocasio-Cortez wanted to see 70 percent of all income from Americans, which is false. Ocasio-Cortez noted that she was alluding to a marginal rate that has a historical basis in the U.S. Under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, America’s top earners were taxed at a 91 percent marginal rate, well beyond Ocasio-Cortez’s informally proposed 70 percent — the same number used under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Her childhood

Ocasio-Cortez said that she relocated with her parents from the Bronx to Westchester County as a child because her parents wanted her to attend a good school. Ocasio-Cortez’s childhood has become the subject of speculation from conservatives, who claim she is fudging facts about her past to appeal to working-class voters. The congresswoman said that her family was able to succeed under the “classic American dream,” but her father’s death while she was a college student at Boston University shattered their hopes.

“Overnight it was all taken away,” she said. “My mom was back to cleaning homes and driving school buses to keep a roof over our heads.”

She identifies as a radical

When Cooper attempted to describe her policy proposals as a “radical agenda,” Ocasio-Cortez responded by saying that America’s most famous historic leaders made their marks not by playing it safe. She specifically referenced President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which legally ended slavery in the Union, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping economy policy that created programs like Social Security.

“You know, if that's what radical means, call me a radical,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Why she joined a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office

Ocasio-Cortez made waves in Washington, D.C., several weeks before she was sworn into office, when she joined a sit-in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand more aggressive action on climate change from Democrats. The controversial decision was not one Ocasio-Cortez made lightly.

“Oh, my goodness, I could have thrown up that morning,” she said. “I was so nervous. But I kept kind of just coming back to the idea that what they're fighting for wasn't wrong. And I had also sat down with Leader Pelosi beforehand and she told me her story. She came from activism. And I knew that she would absolutely understand how advocacy can change the needle on really important issues.”

Cover: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a winner of a Democratic Congressional primary in New York speaks to a reporter, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in New York. The 28-year-old political newcomer who upset U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's Democrat primary says she brings an "urgency" to the fight for working families. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)