By Angélica Acevedo
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was joined by hundreds of viewers on Zoom and Facebook live in her first town hall after the general election — some from her district in the Bronx and Queens and others who hailed from states like California, Texas, Massachusetts, and as far as Germany, Italy and Estonia.
The Nov. 12 virtual town hall, which usually takes place with a set theme, was open for discussion of any and all topics. Naturally, most of the questions asked were about the contentious presidential election, transition of power and COVID-19 relief.
In response to a question from one of her constituents regarding the possibility of a peaceful transition of power from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden, Ocasio-Cortez said she believes Trump has been “stoking the flames of violence, as he has done for several years.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that he has incited violence,” she said, noting an incident in which two armed men were arrested after after being found near the Philadelphia convention center where ballots were being counted.
“The longer that he continues to deny reality, the more he is going to disrupt our society,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “I am extremely, extremely disturbed and concerned by the wave of dismissals and resignations that we have seen in defense, in the Department of Homeland Security and, frankly, just all across the administration.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said there will be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Several other Republican politicians, including newly elected Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have backed Trump’s reluctance to concede.
“It is selfish, it is weak, it is reprehensible,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “What all of these individuals are doing by not acknowledging the results of our Election, is that they’re putting they’re selfish interests, once again, ahead of the country’s. It is sad to see how deep this cowardice goes, and that there doesn’t seem to be many Republican anywhere that will stand up to President Trump on anything. It seems as though they are just waiting until he comes after them to say something. It’s quite sad, and I think that it is unbecoming, and it is a weakness of character that no person should have if they seek to serve this country.”
On Friday, Nov. 13, Biden was projected to win Georgia, flipping it blue for the first time since 1992, with a lead of more than 14,000 votes out of nearly 5 million, according to Politico. This positions him at 306 Electoral College votes, the same count Trump won by in 2016.
On the other hand, in response to a question from a constituent about how she will hold the new Biden administration accountable, specifically on climate change issues, Ocasio-Cortez said she worked with Biden’s camp to develop the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Plan to combat climate change crisis and pursue environmental justice.
“We have to make sure that we push for and encourage and really cheer on and campaign for a Cabinet that will allow Joe Biden to keep his word with these policies that we have all agreed on, particularly the ones on climate,” she said. “We’re very much encouraging those picks. We’re not allowing this to just be a quiet, closed door process, but we are advancing our preferences and making our requests known.”
Ocasio-Cortez added that while she’s recently gone under fire from some members of the Democratic party due to her candid interview with The New York Times, she feels “centered and at peace.”
“This is what you all sent me to Congress to do. You all sent me to Congress, not to just beat up on Republicans all day, as fun as that can be, but … to hold all our institutions accountable and to hold a lot of the brokenness of Washington to account — and that includes the Democratic party,” she said. “For two years it has felt as though we haven’t been able to hold our own party into account because of the larger, looming and existential threat that Donald Trump presented to our Democracy. And now we are starting to shift.”
At the beginning of her town hall, Ocasio-Cortez encouraged her constituents living within what New York State has deemed the yellow zone in Queens, which for District 14 means the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, LeFrak City and Corona, to “exercise extreme caution” and follow the guidelines.
Some of those neighborhoods are among several western Queens’ communities that have seen a recent spike in COVID-19 positive cases.
Ocasio-Cortez said the whole city should be cautious to avoid a shutdown, particularly during the holidays.
“If we do not pitch in and do our part to contain the virus, it will grow out of control and we will find ourselves on the precipice of a potential shutdown situation,” she said. “Let’s not let it get out of control … whether you’re in a yellow zone community or not.”
In response to a question from an audience member about when they can expect the next stimulus check, Ocasio-Cortez expressed frustration at the lack of urgency from the Senate and the Trump administration to pass another COVID stimulus package before Elections.
“I’ve championed monthly stimulus checks to folks in the country and everyone that needs it since the pandemic started,” she said. “I was really, really hoping that we were going to be able to cut a deal before the Election. It seemed for a while there that we were on that negotiating path between Nancy Pelosi and the current White House. We thought it was going to happen and at the very last minute the rug was pulled from under us. Now we’re in a very dangerous moment where President Trump has no interest in helping the American people.”
Other constituents asked about possible rent and mortgage relief from the federal government, as fear of a wave of residential evictions and of more businesses permanently closing their doors across the city.
“It’s been extremely frustrating in the House trying to champion both rent and mortgage relief to everyone that needs it in the country,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “To have that be obstructed by a Republican Senate has been devastating, not just for our community but for our entire country. I do believe the federal government has the ability to back rent relief and mortgage relief for those folks that need it. We have to make sure that we cover mortgage relied and that we cover rent relief because it is simply unsustainable for businesses and individuals to have a huge balloon payment due in six or eight months.”
When asked about how a COVID vaccine would be distributed, Ocasio-Cortez said they’re “fighting to make sure it’s free.”
“This vaccine should be free to every single American and to every single person in our country, regardless of your status, whether that’s your insurance status, your immigration status [or] your financial status,” she said. “The only way a tested and vetted and successful vaccine is if we get as many people to partake in it as possible. I think one of the things we should focus on is to use our testing model almost as a model for vaccines.”
On Friday, Trump said he would delay the federal government’s delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine to New York because Gov. Andrew Cuomo “doesn’t trust where the vaccine is coming from.”
Although Cuomo expressed concern over the vaccine, he praised Pfizer’s development of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.