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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Explains Her Bernie Sanders Endorsement

Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells NPR's Michel Martin why she's endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. And the candidate explains what he hopes this will do for the campaign.

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Transcript:

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Queens, N.Y., today, Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders held his first campaign rally since he suffered a heart attack earlier this month. But a lot of the attention was focused on one of his guests, one of the most visible and outspoken of the new Democratic lawmakers, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She officially endorsed Sanders at the rally. And Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez are both with us now to tell us more.

Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.

BERNIE SANDERS: Great to be with you.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: Congresswoman, I'm going to start with you. Why Senator Sanders and why today?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think one of the things that's so important about what Senator Sanders is talking about and what this campaign is about is that it's far larger than a presidential campaign. This is about really creating a mass movement, a multiracial mass movement of working-class Americans to guarantee health care, housing and education as rights for all, to draw back our endless wars and to promote an agenda of peace and prosperity abroad and to really address some of the systemic issues that are underlying a lot of the problems and inequalities in our economy today.

MARTIN: I think the fear is that progressives will kind of undermine each other by lining up this early. Is there something about the particular moment that you felt was important? And what is it that caused you to finally say that you are now decided?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think a lot of people - you know, they know the story that has broken - that I called the senator in the hospital. And I think for me, that moment was just a gut check about, you know, that we all have moments where things come into sharp relief. And for me, that was a moment that it became very clear to me that I want to be part of a mass movement of working-class Americans, and I wanted to be a part of that as quickly as I could.

MARTIN: And before we turn to Senator Sanders - not to hurt his feelings, since he's sitting right there - but there have been, like, almost four dozen white guys and one black guy as president. If there is a qualified woman candidate, why not support her?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I think this is - it's a deeper question that goes beyond just identity, but it goes down to values. It goes down to policy. It goes down to history and agenda. And it would be almost - I think it's a little insulting, frankly, to assume that one would vote solely based on someone who shares a gender instead of just an ideology. But, that being said...

MARTIN: But that's not what I said, Congresswoman. For - Congresswoman, that isn't what I said. I didn't say a woman just because she's a woman. There've been a number of women who have run before like Senator Elizabeth Dole, for example, a Republican who I believe you probably would not have endorsed earlier. But if there are qualified women who share your political perspective on a number of key issues, why not give that the edge? That would be the question.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I think it's a holistic assessment that every person has to make unto themselves. And for me, I think that the mass movement, mobilization and the decades of work that have gone into that was a personal tipping point for me. It may not be for everybody. And I respect that.

MARTIN: Senator Sanders, first of all, how are you feeling?

SANDERS: I am feeling great. It is a beautiful, beautiful day here in Queens. Alexandria and I just said hello to a few of our friends - about 25,000 of them. And I feel great.

MARTIN: Democrats say over and over again - I mean, we hear this on the campaign trail individually when we speak to people. We also see this in the polling - that Democrats say that their number one priority is defeating Donald Trump in 2020. But, you know, demographically, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez's district is much more Democratic than many parts of the country - or, I mean, it leans heavily Democratic. Seventy-seven percent of the vote went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. So again, Senator, I have to ask - does this endorsement sort of help you - should you become the Democratic nominee, take you to the finish line?

SANDERS: Absolutely. It's not just Alexandria's district. It's what she is fighting for. She is fighting to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. And you know what? That is overwhelmingly supported in every state in this country. She's fighting to make sure that health care is a human right, not a privilege, and we end the embarrassment of being the only major country not to guarantee health care to all. That is widely supported by Democrats and most Americans. She is leading the effort in taking on the global challenge of saving this planet for our kids and future generations. So I think if you look at the ideas that she is fighting for, it not only resonates in her own district - it will resonate in every state in this country in my view.

MARTIN: And could I - we take it, though, beyond the primary? Again, it's obvious that many Republicans think, including the president, that your calling yourself a democratic socialist is not something that is a positive. I mean, you might argue that maybe all voters don't understand what that means. But be that as it may, I think that the calculation is that a good part of the country recoils from that label. And one can assume that since Republicans are already using it in an attack ad, so the president certainly sort of seems to see it that way.

SANDERS: Well...

MARTIN: But I just wanted to ask, if you are the Democratic nominee, is it your goal to persuade people that you're right on the issues, that they'll be better off? Or is this a matter of saying 10 beats nine, and to persuade enough of the people who already agree with you to come to the polls, and you are the 10 that beats the nine?

SANDERS: It's all of that and more. So let me start off by saying that you probably know that virtually every credible national poll and statewide poll, for that matter, that has been done in the last year has me defeating Trump, in some cases by rather big numbers. That's No. 1. No. 2 - the key to defeating Trump in my view is to create a campaign of energy and excitement. And there's nobody I know better than Alexandria capable of doing that - of inspiring so many people who have not been involved in the political process.

So we're going to win this election when we have the largest voter turnout in the history of this country - when young people come out in large numbers, when working-class people come out in large numbers, when people who have given up on the political process begin to come out. And when we do that, we're not only going to win this election. We're going to win it by a landslide.

MARTIN: And, Congresswoman, I'm going to ask you that question finally as well. Do you think your role in this campaign - do you feel that the benefit of your endorsement and the work that one presumes you're going to do out on the campaign trail as the race proceeds - is it to persuade people who don't already agree with you? Or is it to persuade people who don't already agree with you? Or is it to energize the people who do already agree with you - recognizing that, as I said, the senator's state and your district are far more Democratically inclined than many parts of the country?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: My passion in - as an organizer is in talking to people who don't vote. And so it's a little bit of both of those things because people who don't vote don't believe in our system. And so there is persuasion to be done there. But my passion is an expansion of the electorate. And the key here is that there is no one person that is going to take this home. We all need to do this together.

We all have a prerogative - and frankly, our democracy is on the line. And it is very nerve-racking because the stakes are very, very, very high not just to defeat this president but to make sure that we don't get back to the same position and conditions that created his election in the first place.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She represents a district in New York. That is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Congressman Ocasio-Cortez has just endorsed the senator for president today.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course. Thank you so very much.

SANDERS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.