What to Know
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still can't believe how different her life is now compared to when she was pouring drinks at a Union Square bar
- AOC said all the scrutiny she gets not just from her politics, but from little things like haircuts "has almost been like a second job"
- While she's done plenty of work and made friends on both sides of the aisle, she says she has no intention of running for mayor
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still finds it hard to believe how different her life is now, compared to just one year ago.
“Last February, I was bartending in Union Square, “ she said in an exclusive interview with NBC New York.
One year after winning the race for the 14th congressional district in Queens and the Bronx following her shocking upset of longtime Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary, she is promoting her Democratic Socialist platform, hitting the 2020 campaign trail on behalf of her mentor Bernie Sanders and questioning witnesses in House Oversight Committee hearings on impeachment.
But the Congresswoman says her newfound fame as the youngest woman elected to Congress, a vocal Democratic socialist, and a social media celebrity with millions of followers, has been stressful.
“On top of all the responsibilities in Congress, the amount of attention … my service has gotten, has almost been like a second job on top of all of that,” she said during the sit-down interview at Queens’ Jax Inn Diner. “What I wear, or how my hair gets cut on a given day, adds a certain level of scrutiny.”
While conservatives have targeted her online for promoting legislation like the Green New Deal — as well as trying (and failing) to embarrass her by promoting a video of her from college dancing— Ocasio-Cortez says it’s that scrutiny and the endless waves of critics trying to bring her down that have made her improve as representative and person.
“I think it’s also forced me to be better in a way that I never imagined I almost could be,” she said, while admitting that she thinks some in Congress may not have to deal with the same scrutiny.
“Sometimes I see other colleagues, they can get away with things that I would never be able to,” she said with a laugh.
Despite the new fame, the 30-year-old firebrand is sure that she’s not looking to capitalize on her intense popularity at home with an NYC mayoral run any time soon.
“I have not thought about running for mayor,” she said. “I think I’ve got some ways to go in Congress before I try to get another job.”
Calling mayor of New York City “one of the hardest jobs in the world,” she complimented Mayor Bill de Blasio on universal pre-k and ending stop-and-frisk — but that wasn’t enough to get her serious consideration for president, though when asked about it, she laughed and said, "That's a good question." AOC says she considered about three presidential candidates before setetling on Bernie Sanders, the man for whom she volunteered, saying his chances at winning are being “very underestimated.”
But she’s not going to start badmouthing all of the other leading progressives either. She said Joe Biden’s attacks on Sen. Elizabeth Warren as an elitist were “totally unfounded and completely unfair.”
As for her own campaign, Ocasio-Cortez said she does plan on debating her opponents — of which there are 11 at the moment — when she runs for reelection in 2020.
“We need to get through to primary and general election season. I believe in running and earning my seat every single time,” she said.
The freshman congresswoman said she understands concerns fellow Democrats have expressed regarding her role in moving the party further left, but doesn’t believe that efforts to scare voters by using socialism as a dirty word are working.
“We saw this week in the Virginia elections that they tried so hard to hammer this word, and to make it a boogeyman. To scare people away, they put even my face on Virginia election literature. And it didn’t work,” the woman colloquially known as AOC said. “There’s some folks that, you know, approach the word with caution, and I think that’s totally fine.”
Even if her ideas have made some Democrats and House leader Nancy Pelosi uneasy, Ocasio-Cortez has made friends during her time in D.C. She is one of four congresswomen known as “The Squad,” along with Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Ocasio-Cortez coined the term in an Instagram post a week after Election Day.
“We sometimes kind of internally joke that we’re more like the Spice Girls,” she said. AOC insists the so-called squad did not get together and plot a presidential endorsement strategy to spread their support among the leading progressives in the race. This week, Ayanna Presley endorsed Elizabeth Warren.
Ocasio-Cortez said she's also made friends with representatives on both sides of the political aisle -- even if some Republicans don't want the public to know.
“They’ve told me they would get in trouble if people knew that I were friends with them,” AOC said with a smile.
Fame and friendships aside, Ocasio-Cortez said she’s starting to see some of the fruits of her labors pay off in the real world. She believes her tough questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on political ads is part of the reason why Twitter recently decided to stop showing political ads on their platform altogether. She also said that based on what she’s learned thanks to her role on the House Oversight Committee, the U.S. might actually be more vulnerable to election interference now than it was in 2016.