AOC: Segregationist controversy and debate performance raised question Biden could be too old for office

Former Vice President Joe Biden showed his age -- and not in a good way -- when he addressed backlash surrounding his comments about working with segregationist senators, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in an interview published on Wednesday.

Ocasio-Cortez told The New Yorker that Biden's performance during the first Democratic primary debate raised questions about his cognitive abilities.

"It’s not just about being centrist, per se. It’s, when you are struggling to talk about segregationists and you err on the side of discussing them in glowing terms, that is a big problem," she said.

Before those comments, she answered another age-related question by saying that President Trump wasn't "all there."

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Biden's comments became a flashpoint during the debate as Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., highlighted that issue and made his opposition to federally-mandated busing personal. After the debate, Biden apologized for any pain he might have caused with the segregationist comments and his wife adamantly denied that he was a racist.

Biden's initial refusal to apologize, Ocasio-Cortez also said, was another indication that he wasn't prepared for office. "So I think the No. 1 indicator on this is, does the person know how to apologize?" she asked.

"And if you don’t know how to apologize for praising segregationists, then that’s a red flag already because I think people are very forgiving on that. I think people understand that over the course of a career, as the country evolves, our politics will evolve."

Ocasio-Cortez's interview reflected a deeper fissure within the party in which older, establishment politicians clashed with younger, more progressive newcomers like herself.

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The New York congresswoman seemed to criticize Biden in a veiled attack after his campaign suggested taking a moderate approach to climate change -- an apparent challenge to her ambitious "Green New Deal."

Biden responded to the criticism by emphasizing his progressive past and eventually endorsed the Green New Deal framework as part of his proposal for addressing climate change as president.

Biden highlighted divergence in the party when he stood by his decades-long position on the Hyde Amendment -- a stand he reversed amid criticism from other Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez seemed to hint at the Hyde Amendment -- which prohibits federal funding of most abortions -- while discussing Biden's age.

"I think struggling in talking about women’s rights is a big issue," she said. "Struggling to convey respect for women in this day and age is a big issue, I think those are systemic issues. Like, those are very deep. Those are not gaffes. They are problems."

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During her interview, Ocasio-Cortez also voiced support for Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. --  perceived progressive leaders whom polling showed as having the best shot at stealing Biden's frontrunner status in the presidential race.

"Well, I’m definitely pro-Sanders in that I want him to do well," she said. "I want him to succeed. But there are other candidates as well, you know, I think Elizabeth Warren is doing a great job, too."

She also confirmed that she was asked at least once or twice by those two for an endorsement. "I think I’ve had one or two—and with other candidates, as well, not just those two—but it’s not like this constant pressure. It’s probably come up once," she said when asked about conversations about endorsements.

The freshman Congresswoman urged the Democratic Party to embrace its mantle as the "party of FDR," a reference to the former president whose "New Deal" seemed to serve as a model for her vision on climate policy.

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She complained that Democrats were too often on the defensive. "I think we became the party of hemming and hawing and trying to be all things to everybody. And it’s not to say that we need to exclude people, but it’s to say that we don’t have to be afraid of having a clear message," she said.

That message included pushing for a "living wage," declaring health care is a "right."

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"And what we call bold agendas, or Republicans call socialist, are things that they’ve always called socialist," she said. "And [we should] wear it, understand that that’s what they’re going to say, but don’t run away from the actual policies that can transform people’s lives."