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CNN Special Reports

CNN Special: Being A.O.C. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: What's it like to be one of the most famous politicians in America?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Hey, what's up? Glad you're back!


BASH: To be adored and reviled with seemingly equal passion.

UNKNOWN: Boo! Boo AOC! Boo! Boo!


BASH: And to be known by just three letters, AOC, a strange existence for anyone, let alone a woman who at age 28 catapulted from no-name New York City bartender to well-known member of Congress, featured on glossy magazine covers practically overnight. It's all part of being AOC.


BASH: Good evening. I'm Dana Bash here at the U.S. Capitol. Tonight, is the first in a series of special hours where I spend time with people in the news and people of power and influence and try to find out what it's like to be them. We begin with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

While celebrities sometimes use their stardom to go into politics, she reached fame as a politician. The 31-year-old is outspoken, uncompromising and not just navigating the political world but trying to change it, all while love her or hate her, everyone is watching.


BASH: You're now in your second term in the House. You have 12 million Twitter followers --


BASH: -- nine million Instagram followers and they all know you by three letters -- OCASIO-CORTEZ: (LAUGHS)

BASH: -- AOC. So what's it like to be AOC?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, it's an interesting question because I just feel like I'm me, where I really try to be is to be like my neighbors and to be like the folks at the bodega that I have coffee but you know, there's also the surreal parts of the experience. But I don't feel like that's part of me. I feel like it's part of this really weird world that I've walked into.


UNKNOWN: She's looking at herself on television right now. How are you feeling? Can you put it into words?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Nope. I cannot put this into words.


BASH (voice-over): This was Election Night in June of 2018 when she stunned everyone including herself, beating Congressman Joe Crowley in the New York Democratic Primary. Crowley was popular and powerful in Washington. He was even seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

BASH: You took down a 20-year House veteran. You go head-to-head with the leadership of your party. And at your age a lot of women and I will put myself in this category, when I was your age I was trying to fit into the world as it is, not trying to change it.


BASH: Where do you get that confidence?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think well first of all I don't think it's confidence at all.

BASH: What is it?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: For me, what I find to be animating all of this is a sense of urgency. And so, I don't feel confident doing those things. You know when --

BASH: So you have days when you doubt yourself?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Every day. Every morning when I wake up, I sometimes find myself having to say OK, like this is why I'm here, this is why I'm doing this. I can take on a 20-year incumbent who was poised to be the next Speaker of the House because I felt that I was amazing.

I did it because I felt that in the time that we have right now where people are struggling to put food on the table, where they're being paid wages that aren't enough to cover their rent and they're making decisions between their medicine and the food you're going to eat that day, you don't have the time to listen to your elected officials say, we're going to do this in a 10-year plan. It's just not compatible with everyday life.

BASH: Let me push back on you a little bit because there are a lot of people who are frustrated. There are a lot of people who feel the urgency on whatever issue, whether it's their economic situation or they're worried about the planet or anything in between. But they don't run for Congress. And they don't get out there and take a leadership role.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think a lot of that I have to thank my parents for. I was raised with a very strong sense of community. And I was raised to say, you know, whatever you do, my mom was a domestic worker and she cleaned houses and my dad had a small business.


And they said, you always have to make sure that you're caring for others and that your own backyard is OK, that your neighbors are OK and that we aren't in this just for ourselves, but we're here to be part of a community.

And so, when I ran for office, my initial goal was to say OK, what would make this a success to me? And it's not just winning or losing. I felt that when I ran, if at the end of running, my community would be more organized and educated and informed, then that's what success was for me.


BASH (voice-over): The Netflix documentary Knock Down the House shows what Ocasio-Cortez's campaign was like, back when she was written off as a longshot. In this scene, she's getting ready for her first debate with Joe Crowley.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Ah, I've got to take up space. I've got to take up space.


BASH: What was that about?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: When I was putting my arms like this, it was you know, I'm not this, I can be this. You know I'm not this idea of oh you were just a waitress, or oh you don't have any Ivy League pedigree. It makes you feel like this. And so the way that you take up space is to say you know what, my experiences actually make me better at my job, you know? I have experiences that colleagues don't have that make me a better legislator.

BASH: Have you heard the term "imposter syndrome"?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh, yeah. I talked about it a lot, actually. The first time I sat down in the House Committee, I believe my first ever hearing was the House Oversight Committee. And there are ways that you speak in committee where you are recognized and you yield back to the Chair.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Chair recognizes Miss Ocasio-Cortez of New York for five minutes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you, Chair. So let's play a game. Let's play a lightning round game.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: I felt there was no handbook for this. And I just had to kind of look around and pick up cues and you absolutely can feel imposter syndrome. And a lot of people come into politics very much groomed for it. They come from multi-generational political families or they come from really elite schooling.

And so when you walk into that you absolutely feel intimidated. And you kind of ask, was this a fluke? And it's especially harder when some people insinuate that you're a fluke --


BASH: They don't just insinuate it.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, or they say it, yeah.

BASH: Right.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And they say you're an accident, you're a fluke. You know, you being here is just because something went wrong, that you're not here because something went right. And it was just like so many women of color, women in general. You hear them say I need to be twice as good to be seen as just as good. And I think a lot of us cope with it that way. And that's how I felt.


BASH voice-over: Part of being Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez means being a target of scorn and criticism, even within her own party.


BASH: I'm sorry, but you said once that I think a lot of people including my Democratic colleagues believe the Fox News version of me.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, yeah, I mean it was -- my first term was very painful. It was very, very painful. And you know, I came in and I unseated an incumbent, that while may not have been very resonant in our community, was very popular inside those, you know, smoke-filled rooms. And so I took away a friend. And I walked in into a very cold environment, you know, within my own party.

And it would be really weird sometimes walking to a House Floor and seeing a colleague who like would never say hello to me. And it felt like man, like it's really tough to have people make opinions about you. They're sitting right next to you, who won't even start a conversation with you. It was very, very tough. BASH voice-over: Even her friendships are famous. The so-called "Squad" House Members Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar not just political allies she says, but real friends.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I was able to find kinship and friendship and sisterhood.

BASH (voice-over): That support helped her get through some very public conflicts, like last July when a Republican Congressman got in her face on the Capitol steps.

BASH: Congressman Ted Yoho referred to you as a I'm quoting here, "fucking bitch" last year.


BASH (V/O): Congressman Yoho later apologized, sort of.


YOHO: Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I'm very cognizant of my language. The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues --

BASH (voice-over): Which led to this response from Ocasio-Cortez, delivered from notes she scribbled down just 10 minutes before.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Representative Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me disgusting. He called me crazy. He called me out of my mind. Um. And he called me dangerous. Representative Yoho called me and I quote, "a fucking bitch," I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

BASH: You made some very memorable remarks on the House Floor. I've covered Congress for -- I'm not going to do as long as you've been alive but for a very long time. And I stopped in my tracks.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, in the moment, I was really shocked, you know. And for whatever it's worth, what I found was that a lot of my Republican colleagues, they'd go on TV or they'd say certain things, but in person, when I was with them in committee, they would actually be quite cordial. But that moment, I was just really shaken up.

But again, as women were taught to just accept and disrespect and belittling is so normalized that I had zero intention of saying anything about it.


YOHO: I cannot apologize for my passion --

OCASIO-CORTEZ: -- and then when I saw him not apologize I said and had that be so public, I said we cannot show people that this is what's acceptable. And we're not going to allow for this to play out this publicly anymore.

BASH: I'm sure you've seen the audio of your speech underneath TikTok videos.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Some of them.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Representative Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me disgusting. He called me crazy. He called me out of my mind. He called me dangerous. Representative Yoho called me and I quote, "a fucking bitch."


BASH: Young women who are you know putting on their red lipstick and so forth, I mean in particular the I'm somebody's daughter line --


BASH: -- is incredibly resonant.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, yeah.

BASH: Did you know that at the time as you were delivering it?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: The fact that he is somebody's father, well, someone's my father, too and I'm someone's daughter. And the value that I have as someone's daughter is, are the values that my parents raised me with. And I think that that ultimately is what that moment was about. But I didn't know how resonant that would be when that happened.

BASH (voice-over): The Ted Yoho fight was not one she welcomed; others are. Like when she's challenging fellow Democrats to embrace more progressive policies, "breaking glass" she calls it, to get attention for an issue. She's just one of 435 House Members, a junior member, yet one of the most visible. That doesn't sit well with some colleagues.

BASH: When she was in the Senate Hillary Clinton said, "I'm a workhorse, not a show horse."


BASH: And some people say that you're a show horse and not a workhorse.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think that's one of those ways that people try to chip away to make a person feel small. The fact of the matter is is that our jobs as legislators is to do both. And the thing I pride myself most in is in my hard work. That is the thing that I take an immense amount of pride in.

But the other end of this is that if we aren't educating the public about the work that is going on, then it is -- we are doing a profound disservice. So if we aren't communicating with the public what our policies are, if we aren't educating the public about the opportunities that are available to them, if we aren't making the case for why we should have universal healthcare in this country, then we aren't fully doing our job.

And so, I don't see it as being workhorse and show horse. I see myself as doing the work and educating the public. And that is what I think a public servant should be doing. Your position is the most important thing that you have.

But I do think that if you have a position and message it poorly, then people will think you have a different position than you actually have. I don't think it's controversial to say that Democrats really struggle with messaging.

BASH: You are uncompromising in your vision, in your goals for what you want to do. So to people who say that is just not realistic, you say?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: We can be uncompromising in our vision and we can be flexible in our path.

BASH: Not a lot of people would use the word "flexible" to describe you, Congresswoman.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: No, well here's the thing is that you know I think that we can be strategic but we also need to put our foot down in figuring out, are we really doing the most that we can? And I think sometimes people think that I'm inflexible or that I'm staunch. But it's because I believe oftentimes that for a very long time, Congress settled for less.


And where the rubber hits the road sometimes is, well, if we can do more by going it alone or do less and get a couple of Republican votes on, sometimes I feel like we should go it alone.

BASH (voice over): Up next, red lips and the red carpet: redefining political power.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think that there is just as much power in femininity as there is in masculinity.

BASH (on camera): You embrace the power?



BASH (voice over): Being Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez means being a celebrity and looking like one, red lips and all. She was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2020 and even shot this tutorial for Vogue on her beauty routine.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I just go right in. I start in the low-risk zone, actually. [23:20:05]

And, again, I start small and I start working my way out. Voila.

BASH (voice over): You don't usually see politicians this way.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: All right. I got my blazer on. And I'm ready to seize the day.

BASH (on camera): You sometimes take heat for your celebrity status, for being glamorous.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You came straight out of the tri-state area...


... with this runway look. I love it.


BASH: One thing that you said that really struck me is "Femininity has power." What do you mean by that?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think, especially when it comes to women in politics, you're always being picked apart for even the very small aesthetic decisions that you make. And I think it is because femininity has a tremendous amount of power and influence. I think that there is just as much power in femininity as there is in masculinity.

BASH: You embrace the power?


BASH: How do you use that power, the power of femininity, as you describe it?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, well, I think -- I think that -- and this is not just in politics but in our society, in our economy, in our work lives, we're really taught to shy away from embracing femininity. And the way that I think -- I think, when we embrace it, we say power doesn't just come in one package. Power is not just broad shoulders, and power is not just being loud and talking over other people. And power is not just Machiavellian, but power can be emotionally intelligent and power can be compassionate and power can be beautiful.

BASH: And power can have red lips.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And power can have red lips. And everyone is born with that beauty.

BASH: And it wasn't that long ago, maybe your mother's generation, where a woman went to work and dressed like a man...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Um-hmm, um-hmm.

BASH: ... and tried to act like a man. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Um-hmm. It's really about embracing who you are. And -- and I think that that is what's powerful. Because, when you are walking in your full authentic self and you're not a woman that's saying, "I'm going to try to lower my voice register, or I'm going to try to walk a certain way because that is what power has traditionally looked like," but say, "No, I'm just going to redefine this."

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": A group of people that seem to have an obsession with you is those -- our friends over at Fox News.


MEYERS: They talk about you a lot. Are you surprised with the speed at which they seem to have shifted all their attention and programming to you?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's -- I mean, it's weird.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: I'm like, why are so many grown men just obsessed with this, like, 29-year-old?

I mean, it's -- it's great. I love the...



OCASIO-CORTEZ: On second thought...


BASH: There was a moment on Seth Meyer's show, while we're talking about Fox.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah...

BASH: And you both looked at each other like...



I wonder why, yeah. And, I mean, the thing is, too...

BASH: Let's -- let's just talk turkey here.


BASH: How much do you think it is that, that you're an attractive young woman and that's part of...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, yeah, I mean, so much of what they're doing is so visceral, right? And their job is to, like, get at this very visceral, reactive place in people, and particularly men, but also tap these visceral lines along race and tap along this visceral lines along gender and youth.

(UNKNOWN): She photographs well and she speaks with her hands. But beyond that, does she matter? Beauty fades. Stupid's forever.


BASH: Do you ever watch Fox News? Do you watch what they say about you?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Not a ton. Every once in a while I do. And I think that it's really fascinating. I actually find it to be really, really fascinating because it reveals a lot about the subconscious of folks that are crafting these narratives. And they very often are speaking to these very subconscious narratives about women or about people of color or about Latinos or Latinas or about working-class people.

You know, these caricatures that are developed are not really personal. They are societal.

BASH: So you can watch that and take yourself, you the human being, out of it...


BASH: ... and look at it almost from an academic point of view?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah. Actually, the right wing critique...

BASH: That seems like it would be pretty hard to do. Because you are a human being.




It is. The harder one is the critiques from within the party. That is the one -- that's the stuff that hurts. But the right-wing stuff doesn't hurt.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: How did someone who's been in Congress only a few months turn off so many people and so quickly?


BASH: You've called yourself one of the most hated people in America.


And you laugh.


BASH: But you have to care?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, well, I mean, it's a duality. And I think, for me, it's not -- what I care about is not -- I think the thing that is most -- that's more impactful is not necessarily being hated, but it's about being misunderstood, and to be so deeply misunderstood because there's an engine out there and a media engine out there that just churns out intentional misperception to generate that hate. That is -- that part, I think, can be hurtful.

BASH: How are you most misunderstood?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Just thinking that I'm rash, unintelligent, and that I intend to do harm. It's unfortunate. It's sad.

BASH (voice over): Up next, the shocking revelation about how she thought January 6th would end for her.

(on camera): You said that you thought you were going to die that day.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: There were moments that -- where I thought that I was going to die before the 6th.



BASH (voice-over): On January 6th, being Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was terrifying. She had already faced multiple death threats since she was elected and felt uneasy about crowds gathered outside the Capitol leading up to that day. She was in her office in the Cannon Building across the street when the mob broke into the Capitol.

You said you thought you were going to die that day?


BASH: How much of that is because of the threats and warnings that you got before that day and even two years before that?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah. Oh, so much of it. So much of it.

There were moments that -- where I thought I was going to die before the 6th. The thing that I think some folks may not understand is that how direct the through line is between right-wing targeting on TV and the -- how much that is actually a driver of very real physical threats.

I used to wake up in the morning looking at photos of the most serious threats that I could recognize, people if someone came up to me. That is why I felt on the 6th, it felt like a culmination. There were so many warnings, so many threats, so many attempts to do more that didn't pan out and I remember just feeling, okay, this is the day. I was getting messages that were -- that day that were telling me, people are looking for you. They're looking for you. BASH: She says she hid in a bathroom in her office after hearing loud banging on her office door.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I hide behind my door like this. I'm here and the bathroom door starts going like this. Like the bathroom door is behind me -- rather in front of me. I'm like this, and the door hinge is right here. And I just hear, where is she? Where is she? And this was the moment where I thought everything was over.

And, yeah, being trapped in that bathroom and hearing those bangs and -- while it ended up being Capitol Police, they didn't announce themselves as Capitol Police. So, from my perspective, the Capitol is being rushed and every -- all of the doors in my office are being banged on with complete silence to nothing else. And I run and I hide and I just hear screams of, where is she? Where is she?

There's no way that a person in that situation would have even thought that that was law enforcement. That's not how we're kind of trained into thinking.

BASH: The man didn't identify himself?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, he didn't identify himself. So, yeah, I was psychologically preparing myself for the worst.

BASH: One big reason, a trauma she experienced earlier in her life.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I'm a survivor of sexual assault. And I haven't told many people that in my life.

BASH: What made that the right moment to open up?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I think for a lot of survivors across the country, the decision to come forward oftentimes does not feel like a conscious one. You don't say, this is the moment, I'm going to do this now. It feels like something happens in the circumstances that almost propels you to -- it almost forces you in a way to come forward, because I think a lot of survivors would rather never talk about what happened ever again.

I think one of the reasons -- while that impact was double that day is because of the misogyny and the racism that is so deeply rooted and animated that attack on the Capitol. White supremacy and patriarchy are very linked in a lot of ways. There's a lot of sexualizing of that violence. And I didn't think that I was just going to be killed. I thought other things were going to happen to me as well.

BASH: So, it sounds like what you're telling me right now is that you didn't only think that you were going to die, you thought you were going to be raped?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, yeah. I thought I was.

BASH: And that you now understand having thought about it is because of your experience?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, yeah. I think so. I think so.

Survivors have a very strong set of skills and the skills that are required as a survivor, the tools that you build for resilience, they come back in right away. And for me, I felt like those skills were coming right back so that I could survive and my skills were to survive.

BASH: I don't want to probe too much and stop me if you don't want to. Is this something that you've reported?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Never. Never. It happened.

And, you know, I grew up in a culture and I grew up in a -- you know, I grew up in -- with a lot of faith and things like that. And so, there's so many things in our culture that prevent women from coming forward.

And the majority of women, they will be assaulted by someone that they know or someone that they're somewhat related to, you know, a family friend or a first date or something like that.

And, I actually had had an experience with stalking before that incident. And I remember going to the precinct to report it and it was very -- I felt like I wasn't believed then either.

And this was a situation where, you know, in the immediate aftermath, you don't want to be going through -- some women just don't want to be going through all of that.

BASH: And that was how you felt.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And that's how I felt. And I felt --

BASH: How old were you?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I was in my early 20s. I was in my early 20s. And a lot of the things that happened, you know, you feel like it's your fault. You feel -- you don't want to subject yourself to the scrutiny because it feels like you're allowing yourself -- you're signing up to be violated even more.

BASH: And you talked about -- just now about the fact that a lot of survivors of assault don't want to talk about it because their perceived as victims, but it also allows others to feel that they're not alone.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, and I think that was one of -- there was an extraordinary amount -- there's an extraordinary amount of pain that there -- that one endures in coming forward, because your biggest fear, one of the biggest fears that survivors have is not being believed.

I'm the most at home and I'm most comfortable here.

BASH: Up next, AOC opens up about having kids and what that mean for her future in politics.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: If I really wanted to start a family, would that mean that I have to leave?




OCASIO-CORTEZ: You get some of that, too.

BASH: Being AOC means being confronted with critics on a regular basis. But the adulation is just as loud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for you twice. Good job!

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. What's your name?

BASH: Her family is from this Bronx neighborhood, though they moved to a more affluent part of New York when she was young so she and her brother could get a better education.

Still, this is her comfort zone.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Hey, what's up?

BASH: She's only 31 years old, living a life quite different from most other women her age.

I was thinking a lot of people who are in their 20s, they go out and party, they go to bars, they hang with friends or they're, you know, starting families.

But, you know, you are in such a unique position for somebody in the world, but particularly somebody your age.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, yeah. And it's -- there's definitely that aspect has been a whole thing to try to figure out and navigate. I'm grateful that I've had just really amazing friends even going into this whole experience.

BASH: I was reading at some point, maybe multiple times, you've talked about, do I have a family? When do I have a family? When do I go about that?


BASH: I'm very tuned into that because I was 40 when I had my son. And it almost didn't happen for me.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, yeah. I think it's a concern that's so -- it's something that I think about a lot. But I think it's also something that -- especially a lot of young women and millennial women my age think about a lot because it just feels -- it's always hard. But I think it feels really hard for us as well, whether it's economic pressure, you know, can -- just a lot of people feel like, can you even -- is it even possible to, like, afford the family life now that people were able to afford a generation ago, or kind of in my case too, we think about climate change and also just with how busy my life is. I really want to not just, you know, have a family and check it off as a box, but, like, with how demanding work can be --

BASH: You want to be present?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah. How can you be a present parent and I feel like my parents were really great in a lot of ways and I'm like, can I live up to how awesome they were? And they were really present.

And so, I think all of these things are for sure on my mind too. I'm working the -- the actual logistics of working in Congress is really tough.

I've even thought to myself, is it even possible? Like, is it even possible? And I've thought to myself, do I have to, like, choose?


Like if I really want to start a family would that I mean have to means that I have to leave or particularly the House where travel is much, much, much more frequent in House and Senate.

BASH: You said that you've talked about freezing your eggs?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, I have talked about that with other members - I talked about--

BASH: That technology is different now. Yes, it's changing rapidly.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It is it is. And I wish you know, I think it's one of those things that I wish should be more accessible to more people you know, we should have a conversation about why health care and health insurance often doesn't cover this.

BASH: We're running to the Netflix documentary knocked down the house shows Riley Roberts, her boyfriend constantly by her side, helping and advising her during her first campaign.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I can do this.

BASH: One of the things that keeps a lot of women from going for it are they haven't found the right person to do it with they haven't had found the right person to start a family. You have pretty solid relationship.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, no, I'm, I'm very, I'm very, I feel very lucky to be supported in a relationship and not just in having a supportive partner but the community that supports my partner also supports both of us and I feel very lucky that you know, my dad always told me that family is what you create. BASH: Up next an election year is quickly approaching and she has a big decision to make. Are you going to challenge Senator Schumer in a primary race?

OCASIO-CARTOZ: You know, I here's the thing.



BASH: Being AOC means taking down powerful figures in her own party. She did it in 2018. The question now is will she tried to do it again? OK, so this is one of the questions that everybody, especially here in New York and definitely in Washington, wants to know the answer to? Are you going to challenge Senator Schumer in a primary race?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I - here's the thing is that, and I know it drives everybody nuts. But the way that I really feel about this, and the way that I really approach my politics and my political career is that I do not look at things. And I do not set my course, appositionally.

And I know, there's a lot of people who do not believe that, but I really, I can't operate the way that I operate and do the things that I do in politics, while trying to be aspiring to other things or calculating to other things. And so, all that is to say is that I make decisions based on what I think our people need, and my community needs. And so I'm not commenting on that.

BASH: Because you're going to have to make a decision soon.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, what the thing is, is also I feel like, this is a decision that was almost put on me, right? Like, I didn't go into politics and say, I'm going to run, I'm going to win two years later, and I'm going to run for Senate. You know, that is not, that's not in my calculus, I wake up and I say, what is needed and what is necessary.

And so, you know, I never thought about this as like a decision that needs to be made or not need to be made. I'm, honestly my focus is taking temperature and how things are going in Washington right now. You know, I really do not try to make these kinds of decisions out of a sense of personal ambition.

BASH: But there's also a calendar, meaning if you decide that you're going to run for the Senate, you got to file at some point, you know that you're here in this district?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, yes. And so yes, I mean, I don't know. It's no comment on it.

BASH: Even Chuck Schumer is watching this, he's going to say, when are you going to put me out of my misery? Or not or put me in my misery?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, and you know for what it's worth, Senator Schumer and I have been working very closely, you know-- BASH: I've noticed.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: --on a lot of legislation, and that, to me, is important right? And so we shall see.

BASH: OK, I know, you're not talking about your future ambition. But there was a podium, there are a lot of posts. I know, you've seen outside here. One of the posts it notes here in front of your office from a constituent says AOC for President.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, I don't, you know, I struggle with this, because I don't want little girls watching or anything like that to, like, lower their sights or anything in that direction. But for me, I feel that if my - if that was in the scope of my ambition, it would chip away at my courage today.

And I decide - I've decided that my courage in the present moment is more important than trying to, you know, being able to stand up and take tough positions that I think will help people but maybe controversial today. That to me right now is more important than having some sort of career path or my--

BASH: But you would have to be more calculating.



BASH: --if that's the case.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think that what happens a lot is that I think what happens a lot in politics is that people are so motivated to run for certain higher office that that they compromise in fighting for people today. And the idea is that if you can be as clean of a slate or as blank of a slate, but it makes it easier for you to run for higher office later on, and--

BASH: Be authentic.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: --to be authentic and I've decided that being me is more important than being anything else.


BASH: Over the past hour, you heard from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her own words on what it's like to be her in a more personal and human way than we're used to seeing a politician or person in the spotlight. I'll be bringing you more of these stories on future episodes of "Being". I'm Dana Bash in Washington. Thanks for watching.