Ocasio-Cortez's First House Speech Points Out The Most Sinister Part Of The Shutdown

by Kavitha George
Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Wednesday marked the 25th day of a government shutdown that has kept hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job, and hundreds of thousands more working without pay. On Wednesday in her first House floor speech, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sharply criticized the president for his part in the stalemate, warning that the current situation is "not normal."

The shutdown has so far centered on the president's demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, which Democrats are unwilling to give into. Ocasio-Cortez rebuked the president for what she called "hold[ing] paychecks hostage" in the meantime, arguing that the standoff is actually a "subversion of our most basic governmental norms." She added:

It is actually not about a wall, it is not about the border, and it is certainly not about the well-being of everyday Americans. It is not normal to hold 800,000 workers’ paychecks hostage. It is not normal to shut down the government when we don’t get what we want. And it is certainly not normal to starve the people we serve for a proposal that is wildly unpopular among the American people.

Ocasio-Cortez began her speech with a story about one of her constituents, a Yemeni-American air traffic controller at John F. Kennedy International Airport, who like air traffic controllers across the nation, did not receive a paycheck last Friday. Citing the high stakes and unpredictability of the job, she added that "it is terrifying to think that almost every single air traffic controller in the United States is currently distracted at work because they don’t know when their next paycheck is coming."

Ocasio-Cortez's larger point through her nearly four-minute speech was essentially that people like her aforementioned constituent shouldn't be punished over partisan politics. "Each and every member of this body has a responsibility to this nation and to everyone in the United States of America, whether they voted for us or not," she said in conclusion. "This president shares in that responsibility as well, which means he has a responsibility to my constituent. ... He has the responsibility to maintain the basic functioning of the United States government."

The House has attempted to pass funding bills to reopen the government, both as packages and individually. But so far Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take any up for a vote — even ones the Senate has already passed — saying he won't process anything the president plans to veto. It's worth noting, however, that since the Senate already approved one of the House's bills 100-0, it could easily override that veto.

Despite the wall being central to the stalemate, according to a Pew Research Center poll, 58 percent of Americans actually oppose a border wall. Ocasio-Cortez has stressed this point about the wall before, arguing last week after Trump's prime-time address that the real border crisis was a manufactured human rights disaster.

"Those women and children trying to come here with nothing but the shirts on their back to create an opportunity and to provide for this nation are acting more in an American tradition than this president is right now," she told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last week. "The president should be really defending why we are funding [ICE] at all because right now, what we are seeing, is death."