The following is the full transcript of an interview with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York that aired Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to Face the Nation. It's setting up to be another consequential week in Washington with just a few days to go before a possible government shutdown unless Congress strikes an 11th hour deal to fund it. We'll get to that in a moment. But we begin with New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the expanding auto workers strike. Good morning to you.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This strike now in 20 states, I know you are headed to Missouri later to strike outside a GM facility. The president goes to Michigan Tuesday, he only announced that after Donald Trump said he was going to UAW strike. Do you think injecting this high level of presidential politics complicates getting a settlement?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think right now we are in such a crisis in our economy, a crisis of inequality, that it is going to take a level of political and popular support, unlike that that we've seen in a strike situation like this in recent and modern history in order for us to get a breakthrough. What we've seen at the Big Three are CEOs giving themselves as much as a 40% wage and- and compensation increase while workers have actually seen a real wage decrease over- over the last 10 to 15 years. And in order for us to break that norm. I think it's going to take an unprecedented level of involvement to make sure that workers get what they deserve here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Shawn Fain, the head of UAW, said the president should join us on the picket line, but he's also said he doesn't necessarily want the White House involved in talks. He's indicated that could complicate things. How long do you expect the strike to go on?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it depends on how long the CEOs of the Big Three want to drag this out, but what we are seeing right now is an absolutely astronomical level of public support for autoworkers here in polling and beyond. And I don't think that dragging this out very long- I don't think that the threat of the- I mean, I think an artificial threat of raising car prices, and all of this, is going to really stick with the American people, who know that a lot of these price increases have not gone to auto worker wages. They've gone to CEO pockets. They've gone to stock buybacks, hundreds of millions of dollars in stock buybacks. So I think it is in the interest of the Big Three to make sure that we get to a resolution quickly. The UAW has made their demands clear. Ford has already had progress and made progress, which is why we're seeing these strikes expand with GM and- and some of the other folks, but I think what's important here is that we keep the focus on wages, and the benefit and the dignity of work for these autoworkers.
MARGARET BRENNAN: UAW's president when he was with us last week said, when I asked him why the union hadn't yet endorsed President Biden, he said that has to be earned. That sounds like he's disappointed that party leadership is not doing as much as they could. Do you agree with that?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it always has to be earned. And President Biden showing up to the picket line on Tuesday is a historic, historic event. We have never seen in modern history a president show up to a picket line like this. And I think it should be earned, it needs to be earned. And I believe that President Biden is- is working towards that, especially when he lands in Michigan on Tuesday to earn that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, one of the things that's happening in the auto industry, as you know, is this market shift and transition to electric vehicles. You were quoted back in July saying you look forward to buying a union-made electric vehicle, but you buy- but you currently have a non-union-made Tesla. UAW already makes some electric vehicles. So why wasn't that- is it a problem with the quality? Is it a problem with the style? Is the market just not there?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: No, the- our car was purchased during the pandemic when travel- before a vaccine had come out. So, travel between New York and Washington, the safest way that we had determined was an EV. But that was prior to some of the new models coming out on the market that had the range available. But we're actually looking into trading in our car now. So we're looking into it and hopefully we will soon
MARGARET BRENNAN: I asked you that because Tesla's, you know, Elon Musk, who has majority share in Tesla has said a lot of things against the unions, and a lot of these electric vehicle battery manufacturing plants as well are not unionized. So there's tension here.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. Yeah. And it's something that I have been speaking with President Fain about because one thing that we're all on the same page about is that we do not want the transition from a fossil fuel economy, to an electric economy to- to represent an erosion in the unionization and rights of workers, and this is something–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But, to do it quickly, that's essentially what's happening. A lot of these are joint ventures, these battery facilities, they're not owned by the Big Three wholly.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, and this is one way in which we want to use historic legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, and- and others, which represents historic climate legislation to incentivize everything from tax credits, to- to federal investment, to facilities, whether they're battery production, or even mining sites, and from the beginning to the very end, to make sure that they're union to make sure that we incentivize the production of these new technologies to make sure that it also represents an escalation in- in rights and wages for everyday workers. In fact, I'm currently working on legislation, a resolution to- to- to focus on that, everything from mining these minerals to battery production and implementation for that to be a union track, beginning to end supply.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And when you mentioned mining, you're talking about human rights violations in third countries?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Not only that, but also domestic mining that we have going on here in the United States, in New Mexico and in- and in Arizona, places like Oak Flat, where there are frontline communities, indigenous communities that really deserve a lot of focus and attention, in addition to the actual jobs that are created in this to make sure that they are of the highest standard as well, and environmental standard as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because there's been concern about, as you know, forced labor in China.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Absolutely.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And Ford using some of those facilities. And Tesla, according to The Washington Post. I want to ask you, though, about migration as well, you were quoted in the New York Times in August as saying "immigration is arguably this administration's weakest issue." What did you mean?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I think the politics around immigration in the United States is, to no surprise to many people, one of the most contentious issues. We saw this dramatically inflamed under President Trump, but it remains to be a very controversial and contentious issue. And that makes, I believe, that makes enacting- enacting some of the policy changes necessary much more complicated and difficult. Now, this week, after perhaps almost a year of pushing from both the Hispanic- the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the New York delegation in Congress, we push to make sure that the Biden administration extended Temporary Protective Status, otherwise known as TPS, for Venezuelans, which will allow and open the pathway for Venezuelan migrants to actually begin working and supporting themselves, which will reduce the strain on our public systems, particularly New York shelter system and more–
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's- 500,000 Venezuelans, but only if they came here before July.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So does Congress need to do something, like the HIRE Act that one of our guests Tony Gonzales has put forward or others to- to put that into law. So it's not just a one off?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I definitely think that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform so that we aren't constantly doing this patchwork of policy extensions–
MARGARET BRENNAN: That hasn't happened for decades.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: That has not happened for decades. But additionally, I think we also need to examine the root of this problem, because if we are constantly engaging in foreign policy that drives people to our southern border in this specific instance, U.S. sanctions that were originally authored by Marco Rubio began and precipitated certainly took a large part in the driving of populations to our southern border shortly after those sanctions, those broad based sanctions–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about in Venezuela?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, shortly after those broad based sanctions were enacted, we started seeing dramatic increases in these populations that were coming to our southern border. And so we have to address the root of these population movements and the migration crisis. And we have to also have to address the domestic U.S. policy issues when it comes to immigration reform.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you know, the Maduro government has also been responsible for large parts of that.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Absolutely.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying that you want to- you want the Biden administration to pull back pressure on him?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think we need to reexamine the nature of these sanctions. There are sanctions that are very specific, for example, the Magnitsky Act sanctions that do actually focus on the decision makers and people who may be violating norms, practices, civil rights, but broad based sanctions that punish the overall economy and harm everyday working people that are driving them into the economic and political destitution that force millions of people, both not just to the United States, but even to our regional partners. Colombia alone has absorbed a population of two to three million Venezuelan migrants. We have to really address the destabilization issue so that we're not constantly dealing with this with- with the issues of overwhelming displacement and the magnitude that we see them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So when Secretary Mayorkas says Congress needs to fix the immigration system, you're saying the federal government also has to make changes in its foreign policy to do what you're arguing. Do you think President Biden needs to go to the border? Do you intend to go to the border?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, you know, we, we absolutely do. We've also been dealing with the busing situation in New York City. So we have really been looking at that as part of our frontline as well. And we want to also be an example to the country as well of a humane process, and the- the supports and changes that are necessary for us to maintain that standard of care. And it's a standard of care that, frankly, is something that we should be proud of. Folks are coming into the Roosevelt Hotel, there are absolutely capacity issues that we had been struggling with–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Migrants have to leave after 30 days now.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: And- and- and we have these changes from the Adams administration. But when you step foot into the Roosevelt Hotel, people are getting vaccinated, kids are getting enrolled in school, we are seeing people that are actually getting mental health care assessments. And now hopefully, with this recent designation for work authorization and the ability to work through TPS, hopefully, folks are going to be getting jobs from the New York businesses that are asking to hire them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But, you don't think that drives more migration?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think what's driving migration is the economic destitution and the political destabilization that we are seeing in Latin America. Someone being able to get a job in New York City is not what is driving millions of people to leave Venezuela. It is the- it is the economic destabilization and the political destabilization that people are experiencing there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some democratic politics. You were outspoken about George Santos, the New York congressman and said he should resign because of all the legal issues and ethical issues he was facing. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, as you know, has just been indicted on bribery charges. Should he resign? And what do you think of his statement that it has to do with him being a Latino?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I think it's- the situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interest for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment. As you mentioned, consistency matters. It shouldn't matter whether it's a Republican or a Democrat. The details in this indictment are extremely serious. They involve the nature of, of not just his but all of our seats in Congress. And while you know, as a Latina, there are absolutely ways in which there is systemic bias. But I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear. And- and I believe is in the best interest to maintain the integrity of the seat. I want to emphasize that all people are- they must be extended the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. That is the legal reality in our country. But when it comes to the political and the standard of dignity that we want to maintain for the public in the United States Congress, I do believe it is in- in the best interests.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you quickly. Some Republican members like Matt Gaetz have threatened to try to oust Speaker McCarthy. If he threw a motion to vacate, would you vote with him as a Democrat to get to 218 to oust Speaker McCarthy?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, I think that we would have to cross that bridge when we get to it. Speaker McCarthy has been very weak. I think that he has also engaged in just absolutely terrible decision making for the American people from continuing to try to cement denying the right to an abortion among women, to the denial of- to policy that denies the reality of climate change, to basic fiscal irresponsibility and recklessness. We are at the brink of a shutdown right now. And so, absolutely, I think there is grounds. However, we are also in the midst of an extremely chaotic Republican Party. And we do not want chaos to reign in Washington either. So again, I think that is a bridge that we'd cross if we get to it. That is something that the Democratic caucus would also have to come together on and decide how we want to navigate as a collective as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So we'll continue to follow the next few days. What happens there before I let you go student loan repayments, you're passionate about that, they have to restart October 1 After being paused for a number of years. The President has said he hasn't exhausted his options, but it's not clear what that means. Do you think the White House needs to do and can do more?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. Well, the President announced after the Supreme Court overturned the original student loan forgiveness program that they are pursuing a rulemaking process to continue the fight for broad based cancellation. Now, that is, I think, something that we're going to learn more about in the next 10 to 12 months because that rulemaking process takes about a year and this was announced a few months ago. Now in the short –
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, it won't be before the election?
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: So potentially it would not, I think, well, we will see that timeline is still flexible, I would hope that we would see it sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, I think it's very important. A lot of Americans don't know that they actually may be eligible for cancellation right now, in the form of various programs from disability, public service, loan, forgiveness, teacher, loan cancellation and more. And as I've reached out to my constituents, we've actually found people that were eligible for cancellation and had no idea. So between that and the SAVE program, which is newly announced by the Biden administration, which could bring monthly payments down to zero, depending on your income level, I think it's really important that before October 1, people look into their options, they may have to pay much less or nothing, and may not know it. So I think short term that is our priority to get folks enrolled in these programs, and long term to continue engaging the Biden administration. I believe that commitment is there. I've been in conversations with the administration trying to figure this out as we enter the coming year.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Congresswoman, thank you for your time.
REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you. Thank you so much.
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