Using her first floor speech as a member of Congress to highlight the severe financial pain and insecurity the government shutdown has caused for millions of ordinary Americans, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday castigated President Donald Trump for holding "800,000 workers' paychecks hostage" and argued that the record-long lapse in federal funding is emblematic of a systemic crisis of democracy.
"The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
"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," Ocasio-Cortez said of the shutdown, which is now in its fourth week with no end in sight. "The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms."
"It is not normal to shut down the government when we don't get what we want. It is not normal for public servants to run away and hide from the public that they serve," the New York congresswoman declared, referencing her unsuccessful search for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the Senate building on Wednesday. "And it is certainly not normal to starve the people we serve for a proposal that is wildly unpopular among the American people."
Watch Ocasio-Cortez's full remarks:
First House Floor speech from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC): “The truth of this shutdown is that it's actually not about a wall...The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms." pic.twitter.com/r8tmsGSNtT
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 17, 2019
To illustrate the shutdown's impact on the daily lives of federal workers, the New York congresswoman told the story of one of her constituents, a Yemeni-American who works as an air traffic controller—a profession that has been deeply harmed by the partial government closure.
"He and air traffic controllers like him across the country missed their first paycheck this past week," Ocasio-Cortez said. "He was telling me about how stressful his job is. Every single day air traffic controllers have thousands of people's lives in their hands. And 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."
As Common Dreams reported, a representative of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association warned in an interview with CNN on Wednesday that flying is "absolutely" less safe due to the government shutdown, which has forced air traffic controllers to work unpaid and "with bare-bones crews."
"Federal workers' jobs are stressful enough," Ocasio-Cortez said during her floor speech. "The rise in New York City's cost of living is stressful enough. His several-thousand-dollar-a-month Bronx mortgage is stressful enough. The anti-immigrant sentiment of this administration is stressful enough."
The New York congresswoman concluded that Trump and "every member" of Congress has a responsibility to bring the prolonged shutdown to an end and "maintain the basic functioning of the United States government."
Ocasio-Cortez's first remarks on the House floor came just hours after she and a group of her fellow House Democrats marched to the Senate building to demand that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hold a vote to reopen the government.
"He seems to be running away from us," Ocasio-Cortez said after looking for and failing to find McConnell in his office or on the Senate floor.
Ultimately, the group of House Democrats left McConnell a letter calling for a vote to "end this manufactured crisis and allow our devoted federal workers to get back to work for the American people."