Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez On Her Primary Victory In a major primary upset, activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out longtime Democratic New York Rep. Joe Crowley. NPR's Steve Inskeep speaks with Ocasio-Cortez.
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez On Her Primary Victory

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez On Her Primary Victory

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez On Her Primary Victory

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez On Her Primary Victory

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In a major primary upset, activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out longtime Democratic New York Rep. Joe Crowley. NPR's Steve Inskeep speaks with Ocasio-Cortez.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Say this for Joe Crowley. When the No. 4 House Democrat lost a primary last night, he conceded defeat in style. He likes to play guitar, and he dedicated his version of a Springsteen song to the woman who defeated him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE CROWLEY: (Singing) In the days, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream.

INSKEEP: ..."Born To Run," as Springsteen fans will know. Crowley was singing for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She's 28 years old. She's a former organizer for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. And she is on the line after an enormous upset.

Good morning.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And congratulations to you. Did you appreciate the song?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I do. I do. I thought it was an amazing and incredible gesture. I definitely appreciate it.

INSKEEP: But what do you think you offered the voters that Joe Crowley, with all of his experience, did not?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think, for a really long time, voters in this district were yearning for a candidate that spoke directly to them and to our needs. We're having an affordability crisis in New York City. We have a security crisis with our current immigration system. And they really - you know, I think I was able to allow our community to really feel seen and heard, and visited and advocated for.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should remind people, you represent - or will, if you win in November, which you would be favored to do - represent a district in Queens and the Bronx in New York City.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: yes.

INSKEEP: ...With lots of immigrants, children of immigrants in that - in your district, I would imagine.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, about 50 percent immigrant.

INSKEEP: Wow. So one of the things that you called for is something that some Democrats have called for - abolishing ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now, I understand ICE has been fiercely criticized for its role in separating parents and children in recent days, but what do you mean by abolishing customs enforcement and immigration?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, no, it's an excellent question. One of the things that we talk about in that call is essentially that ICE was just established in 2003 - we know - in the same suite of legislation as the Patriot Act, the AUMF, the Iraq War. And so what we're basically saying is that the structure of ICE, in the same way of the - in the similar manner as the structure of the Patriot Act, is kind of built on the scaffolding of questionable civil liberties infringement and abuse. And so what we're really talking about is reimagining immigration to be humane and in a way that is transparent and accountable.

INSKEEP: Although, I mean, you're still going to have immigration officers, right? You're still going to have customs officers, if you got your way. I mean, there's going to be border enforcement. It'd just be under a different name.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it's a different name and a different approach, you know? Before ICE, we had Immigration and Naturalization Services, but it wasn't until about 1999 that we chose to criminalize immigration at all. And then once ICE was established, we really kind of militarized that enforcement to a degree that was previously unseen in the United States.

INSKEEP: Now, I'm mentioning this because, obviously, you're heading into a fall campaign. You may be favored to win in New York City, but Democrats will face a fierce fight across the country. And President Trump is ready and eager - he has said so - to fight that election on the immigration issue, and his phrase is open borders. He claims Democrats favor open borders. How are you going to respond to that?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, I think that, for once, we have to stop playing defense with the fearmongering and the incorrect characterizations of the president. I refuse to answer or I - you know, I kind of refuse to answer to these false characterizations. And what we really need to do is pivot the conversation. This is about humanity. This is about making sure that we aren't ripping children away from their parents and that we aren't committing civil rights abuses in our name on our border, and...

INSKEEP: Although there is the question of - let's just call it border security. I mean, do you favor securing the borders so that people cannot cross illegally?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think - I do think that we have to have a secure border. We need to make sure that people are, in fact, documented. But that doesn't mean that we threaten people's lives. It doesn't mean that we kill them. It doesn't mean that, you know, we have people sabotaging water supplies on our border. I don't think that we respond by actively harming and potentially putting people's lives in danger.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're talking about the idea of, like, getting rid of water supplies so that it's harder for migrants to move across, that sort of thing.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Right.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another issue here, if I can. You are a member of Democratic Socialists of America, an organization. Democratic socialist is what Bernie Sanders calls himself. He's been on this program saying what he means by that. What do you mean by being a socialist?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think what it means is basically saying that we're at a point of modernity in the United States where we should guarantee a basic level of dignity here. That means that all children should have access and have an equitable guarantee, equitable education, health care, and aim for a world where Americans aren't threatened in their stability of health care, education and housing.

INSKEEP: So let me ask about one other thing before I let you go. You have here unseated one of the House leaders, a guy who was the No. 4 House Democrat who was seen possibly as an eventual speaker of the House. Now that Joe Crowley is gone, should other House leaders go, in your opinion - particularly, the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it all depends on a case-by-case basis. I think that the party itself, I look forward to us having new leadership just in general.

INSKEEP: Well, let's do the case of Nancy Pelosi, specifically, then.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: (Laughter) Well, I think that it depends on our options, you know? I'm open to looking at who are other candidates for leadership. And you - it's really about the choices between two, but I'm certainly open to examining, you know, what we're doing as a party and how we're moving forward.

INSKEEP: So that's not unqualified support for Nancy Pelosi. I'm not hearing that.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: No?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh, no, I mean, I think it's - I think what we have to do is - I think it'd be inappropriate to commit to any one individual before we've even won back the House in November. Let's make sure that we do that, and then we can have that conversation.

INSKEEP: Last thing to ask about then - just a few seconds left - is there any danger to Democrats in seeming too extreme in their opposition to President Trump - calling for impeachment, for example, or shunning his aides in public, as people have done recently?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: No. I don't think so. I mean, you look at the extremity of this current administration, and trying to, you know, instill fear or spook the Democrats that are trying to hold the unconscionable actions of this administration accountable is not extreme. It is clarity. And clarity is not - I don't think it's that at all.

INSKEEP: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York City - a Democratic primary for a House seat in New York City last night. Thanks very much.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you so much.

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