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Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: Progressives May Sink Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Without Reconciliation Deal

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As lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., following a two-week recess, we speak with Democratic Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about efforts to pass major infrastructure funding that could address child care, climate change, education and poverty. President Joe Biden has already struck a $1 trillion infrastructure agreement with a centrist group of lawmakers concentrated on roads, bridges and highways, but a fight is brewing over a larger package that Democrats want to pass in the Senate using the budget reconciliation process, which can pass with just 50 votes and avoid a filibuster. “The Progressive Caucus is rather united in the fact that we will not support bipartisan legislation without a reconciliation bill, and one that takes bold and large action on climate, drawing down carbon emissions, but also job creation and increasing equity and resilience for impacted communities, particularly frontline communities,” says Ocasio-Cortez, who represents New York’s 14th Congressional District. “That’s where we’ve drawn a strong line.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Representative, I wanted to ask you about — in the infrastructure and the developing agreement between Democrats and Republicans on infrastructure, the concerns of you and other members of the Progressive Caucus about what is going to happen to efforts to combat climate change in these battles over infrastructure?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I believe that the Progressive Caucus is rather united in the fact that we will not support bipartisan legislation without a reconciliation bill, and one that takes bold and large action on climate, drawing down carbon emissions, but also job creation and increasing equity and resilience for impacted communities, particularly frontline communities. And so, we’ve made that very clear and that a bipartisan agreement will not pass unless we have a reconciliation bill that also passes. And so, that is where we’ve drawn a strong line. And I believe that Speaker Pelosi, the White House and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have taken that threat quite seriously. They know that we fully intend on acting out on that if a reconciliation bill does not come to the floor of the House.

And, you know, we have many — there’s many, many different actions that we need in a climate bill for reconciliation, whether it’s a Civilian Climate Corps, whether it is increased infrastructure and investment in rail, in mass transit, and whether it’s also centering frontline, Indigenous, Black and Brown and low-income communities that are polluted on and often experience the greatest brunt, and will be experiencing the greatest brunt, of climate change-related infrastructure failures.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this issue of trying to get a massive Green New Deal proposed — I mean, Bernie Sanders, of course, head of the Budget Committee, said $3 trillion is simply not enough to deal with what must be dealt with in this country — also involves this filibuster. And there are many right now, in the voting rights community, for example — and this all overlaps — who are saying just President Biden is simply not expending his political capital to get this dealt with, because he has a very limited amount of time, possibly, when the Democrats are in power in the Senate and he’s the president and Democrats control the House, to get some of this groundbreaking legislation through. Tomorrow he’ll be giving a voting rights speech in Philadelphia. What does he have to do? What are you saying behind the scenes? What is Schumer saying? What is your relationship like with Schumer? What are you demanding they do that they’re failing to do right now?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I do believe that there is a sense, particularly among members of Congress, that believe that the White House is leaving some of its leverage on the table in terms of really pushing on voting rights and the passage of H.R. 1, and particularly in its conversations with those in the Senate, whether it is Senator Manchin, Sinema — or, frankly, there are others. It’s not just Manchin and Sinema that have been hesitant on the filibuster, but I believe that there are other members of the Senate that are essentially hiding behind them in their hesitations, as well. And, you know, the White House has been stepping up slightly in that campaign, and I think that’s evidenced by their decision to make a speech tomorrow.

But I do believe that all of these conversations are quite interlinked, and I believe that it should be coming up in every conversation and every negotiation, whether it is infrastructure, whether it is voting rights and so on, that, you know, the White House needs to be making explicit, frankly, to members of Congress the way that it is — what they are doing, particularly within our own party, to make sure that this gets done, because the last thing that we want to see is a lot of wonderful speeches and public-facing statements but no actual passage of critical voting rights legislation.

And I think that this is — it cannot be stated enough that the United States is in a very fragile and delicate precipice of democracy in our own right. And if we do not get H.R. 1 passed, if we do not pass it in this term, I think I and many other individuals, frankly, are quite fearful for the state and future of our democracy. It is that simple. We have state Republican parties that are setting up the infrastructure and, frankly, the practice to overturn the results of an election. And that includes the presidential election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of presidential elections, former President Trump delivered the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, in Dallas, Texas, over the weekend. He captured over 70% of the 2024 GOP presidential nomination poll at CPAC. Should Democrats be concerned about his continued popularity?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, I think the whole country should be concerned. You know, I think that there are two minds of this. One is that I do believe that whether he intends to run or not, former President Trump will be indicating and will continue to essentially tease the possibility. So, what that is to say is to not discount the ability and the popularity that he may have and the possibility of him running again. But it is also to say that he may not, but wants to continue his — essentially, his vise grip over the Republican Party. And so there are two distinct possibilities here. But I do believe that the Democratic Party should be worried.

And that cuts straight to the voting rights provisions. And I do want to state that even Senator Manchin and some others have indicated that H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights, is what they would support instead. And I think while H.R. 4 is critical for passage, it does not solve this problem. And it is not a substitute for passing the For the People Act. One main and enormous provision is that H.R. 1, it is essentially retroactive, in that it will overturn and it will supersede many of these anti-democracy laws that are being passed in states across the country. And the Voting Rights Act doesn’t — I mean, the John Lewis — the John Lewis Voting Rights Act does not do that. It restores key provisions of the Civil Rights Act, but H.R. 1 is what will actually institute and reverse some of these very corrosive and very frightening, frankly, anti-democracy laws that are being passed in state governments across the country.

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