Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday called out Congress for not being in session when communities like hers are in crisis as she demanded bold measures for hard-hit families -- including undocumented immigrants -- rather than what she called the "crumb" they've been dealt in previous coronavirus relief efforts.
"We need to be able to play hardball so that working families can get the meaningful help that they need," Ocasio-Cortez said in a press call Monday with the freshman "squad," progressive leaders and activists.
As of now, Ocasio-Cortez said she doesn't intend to support the "Phase 3.5" interim coronavirus package -- with a price tag for now of roughly $470 billion -- designed to replenish a small business fund and give more help for hospitals and testing. She'd be more open to smaller pieces of legislation if Congress didn't "peace out" for a monthlong recess while her community is among the hardest hit from the global pandemic.
"I would be amenable to accepting this kind of logic if Congress actually was in session and convening," Ocasio-Cortez said. "But if you're going to say ... that this new bill is going to give us $5, and then Congress is going to peace out for another month-long recess, I'm here to say that that's not going to help our communities, and we have to make sure that we demand meaningful change and meaningful assistance for working families."
The Bronx Democrat added: "We cannot bow to the logic that a dime and a crumb is better than nothing."
Congress has already approved, and President Trump has signed, an over $2 trillion package that included business loans as well as stimulus checks for individuals and unemployment benefit increases. But Ocasio-Cortez and others are calling for much more in subsequent rounds of legislation.
In a fourth round of stimulus -- known as Phase 4 -- Ocasio-Cortez called for expanded health care and $2,000 in monthly reoccurring payments to all families, regardless of immigration status, and $1,000 per child. The calls from both sides of the aisle for such massive amounts of government spending have started to raise alarm among fiscal hawks, but lawmakers largely have not been discussing ways to offset these costs.
Ocasio-Cortez said if Republicans are so concerned about the debt they can repeal the massive GOP tax breaks and require billionaires, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to pay up.
She was joined by Progressive Caucus leaders and fellow Democrats Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, as well as "squad members" Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and activists in demanding the next round to coronavirus relief aid put people first and include undocumented immigrants.
The progressive caucus already outlined its priorities, including direct payments, creating a federal paycheck guarantee program for employers, essential worker protections, expanded health care and enacting a vote-by-mail requirement for the 2020 federal elections. Other members touted their priorities, including Tlaib's bill to ensure access to safe drinking water and Omar's legislation to cancel rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic, and Pressley's call for student debt cancellations.
The progressive leaders and activists said the coronavirus crisis exposed the race, immigration and class disparities in America and now it's time to demand bold action to fix the system. Returning to "normal" is unacceptable, they say, and they were unapologetic in their demands.
"This truly is a crisis within a crisis. With this fourth stimulus package ... we have a responsibility to repair the systemic injustices," Pressley said.
She accused the Trump administration of exacerbating structural disparities.
"So far as I'm concerned, what's happening with this administration ... it's akin to war crimes," Pressley said. "Criminal negligence. Science denials. A sluggish response. And so we find ourselves in a position of playing catch up in the midst of a pandemic, which is the last place that you want to be."
Pressley added: "We just have to reject any calls for a return to normal. Because that normal is one that was slowly killing people."