Since winning the Democratic primary in June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has captured the attention of both conservatives and liberals as the new face of the left. Drawing criticism and commentary for her politics, her policies, her clothing and her upbringing, the 29-year-old congresswoman-elect never fails to fire back.
Her most recent target: Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the two-term senator who will be replaced in the upcoming session of Congress by Missouri’s attorney general, Josh Hawley (R).
During a wide-ranging exit interview Saturday, CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju asked McCaskill to clarify who constituted a “crazy Democrat.” It was a reference to a campaign radio ad in which McCaskill, seeking to portray herself as a moderate, said she is “not one of those crazy Democrats.”
(Her examples: a Missouri state senator who posted on Facebook that President Trump “should be assassinated”; the people breaking windows in downtown Washington during Trump’s inauguration; those protesting Trump administration officials at restaurants and screaming in their faces during dinner with their families.)
Raju then asked McCaskill whether Ocasio-Cortez was part of that camp of Democrats.
“I don’t know her,” McCaskill said, describing Ocasio-Cortez as “a bright and shiny new object who came out of nowhere and surprised people when she beat a very experienced congressman.”
Since Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory in the congressional primary — she ousted 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) — she has generated enthusiasm and commented on many progressive initiatives, McCaskill said.
But the senator added: “I’m not sure what she’s done yet. I wish her well, I hope she hangs the moon.”
McCaskill also tacked on a piece of unsolicited advice: White working-class voters grow cynical after hearing campaign promises that never go anywhere. They need to hear how the dignity of their jobs will be respected.
"Stick to issues we can actually accomplish something on,” she said. “The rhetoric is cheap. Getting results is a lot harder.”
Despite McCaskill’s good wishes, Ocasio-Cortez felt attacked.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” she fired back, taking aim at the senator on Saturday in tweets.
Ocasio-Cortez, who did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment, wrote: “Not sure why fmr Sen. McCaskill keeps going on TV to call me a ‘thing’ and ‘shiny object,’ but it’s pretty disappointing. McCaskill promised she’d ’100% back Trump up' on his anti-immigrant rhetoric & lost. In Mo., almost all progressive ballot issues won.”
In a second tweet, she said, “I’m also not sure why McCaskill is covering for the GOP by saying they ‘secretly think Trump is nuts’. Nobody cares.”
Contrary to Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter tirade, McCaskill did not back anti-immigrant rhetoric and opposed Trump’s border wall.
McCaskill responded to Ocasio-Cortez in a statement Sunday to The Post:
“As I replied to Congresswoman Cortez this morning, I wish her well and hope for her success, as I clearly stated in the interview. I was pointing out that rhetoric without results feels like broken promises to many Americans. That breeds cynicism about our government. It is that cynicism which was key in electing Donald Trump. Results in Congress will require negotiation and compromise. With her ability to inspire I’m hopeful she will be a part of that.”
Trump won Missouri, once a swing state, by about 20 percentage points in 2016. During the 2018 campaign, Trump visited the state several times, twice campaigning for Hawley. McCaskill’s loss to Hawley reflects Trump’s statewide influence.
Ocasio-Cortez is among several freshmen joining the House as the Democrats take control in January.
Karine Jean-Pierre, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Obama White House, told the Fix that Congress will be seeing a host of young women who are not interested in continuing business as usual.
“Men and women are held to different standards in Washington and around the country, but the men in this Congress better figure out times are changing, and quick,” Jean-Pierre said. “Because this new class of freshman women are not going to take a back seat to anyone — and they shouldn’t. Ocasio-Cortez and many of the incoming freshmen are not playing the usual Washington game — and she shouldn’t. But that is scaring a lot of people.”
As The Post’s Cleve Wootson wrote this month, Ocasio-Cortez has shown herself to be particularly deft at weaponizing Twitter.
“If Ocasio-Cortez has become particularly good at nailing her critics on Twitter, it’s probably because of the sheer amount of practice she’s had,” he wrote.
And she is willing to challenge Republicans and Democrats alike.
She has sparred with top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, writing that Conway has “been engaged in a war on facts since Inauguration Day,” and mocked Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who apparently didn’t realize that Apple and Google were unrelated companies when he questioned Google chief executive Sundar Pichai during a December House Judiciary Committee meeting.
After her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez participated in a protest outside party leader Nancy Pelosi’s office, calling for Congress to enact a “Green New Deal.”
McCaskill is just the most recent target.