When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez interviewed to join the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after being first elected in 2018, its late Speaker Eliza Cummings asked him clearly, “Are you ready to work?” This question was not surprising, given that his perception of him was similar to that of many in Washington.
Ocasio-Cortez had pulled off the surprise primary defeat of Democratic Caucus President Joe Crowley, and became immediately famous for his outspokenness and social media presence. May have measured but never given a timid speaker an understandable pause. Despite its name, the committee often goes to a place where blowhards thrive to get time in front of the camera, thus allowing them to boost their profile by appearing on cable news that evening. Cummings clearly wasn’t looking for more of that.
But New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump—which Ocasio-Cortez began with questioning former Trump fixer and attorney Michael Cohen—shows that the answer to Cummings’ question is a resounding is “yes”. And besides, it shows how, despite being perhaps the most visible Democratic member of Congress, Nancy Pelosi is unnamed, a feat both admirers and detractors of AOC underestimate her.
James – who may have been the most powerful black female politician in America after ousting former Governor Andrew Cuomo and now filing this lawsuit against Trump – said the investigation began when Cohen told Congress that the former president had lost his wealth. How to increase
Cohen’s remarks came in response to questions from none other than Ocasio-Cortez in February 2019 when he testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. At the time, Cohen was in the early stages of being a political face. After previously intimidating and humiliating people in Trump’s defense, he turned against his longtime well-wisher.
It was also Ocasio-Cortez’s first committee hearing since he was sworn in. I was watching the hearing in my office, and I fully expected that she would pontify once she got on stage. Instead, he asked some nuanced questions throughout the hearing. Specifically, she asked Cohen whether Trump intentionally inflated the value of his assets, to which he replied in the affirmative.
The questions were particularly pointed, and they focused more on hard facts than many Republicans—who primarily used the hearings to demonstrate who could be the biggest apologetics to Big Daddy Trump. Has—and some Democrats, who chose to use their time more for loneliness investigation. In fact, Michigan’s AOC fellow squad member Rashida Tlaib sparked controversy when she accused then-Representative Mark Meadows of being a fanatic, which caused him to take protestorial umbrage over such an allegation. It was a performance that Meadows captured so skillfully that Trump awarded him his last White House job as chief of staff (punished?).
Although Ocasio-Cortez’s sensible line of questioning may have taken more than three years to bear fruit, the fact that her interrogation led to the trial today speaks volumes about her political prowess. The AOC is often adept at asking questions that other people might not even think to ask. And doing so can have wide-ranging consequences. Not only did questioning Cohen lead to James’ trial, but the specific allegation – that Trump exaggerated his worth and lied about his wealth – inflicted a special wound on the former president. Trump paints an image – beloved by his fans – of a highly capable monarch of New York business. That image is now being destroyed, and he’s starting to look like a con artist, just in time for the midterms and the 2024 presidential election.
Ocasio-Cortez has had trouble over it since she was sworn into Congress three years ago. Conservatives, who seem to be angered by his popularity with younger voters, have repeatedly reduced him to his previous occupation by calling him a “bartender”, or verbally harassed him on the steps of the US Capitol. This vitriol reached its most rebellious nadir when Paul Goser posted an anime parody depicting him being killed in a cartoon form.
And despite its widespread popularity with the online left, the AOC does not hold much influence within the Democratic Party. Contrary to popular belief, most left-wing voices are not the party’s base – but black voters, especially older people who range from conservative to liberal, comprise most of the base. As a result, Ocasio-Cortez’s favorite presidential candidate Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination to Joe Biden and was given only 60 seconds to speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. In Congress, he and his squad mates lost their battle. With the bipartisan infrastructure bill Build Back Better to pass and a much thinner climate bill written by Joe Manchin had to be swallowed that included permitting lease sales for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.
But his ability to ask measured questions that yield results shows he’s an important asset to Democrats going forward. Furthermore, while many political pundits like to compare her to some Republican bomb-throwers such as Representatives Marjorie Taylor-Green, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Getz, they are all basically ignorant about doing the jobs they require. The constituents had chosen them. Rather, they have repeatedly shown that they are more interested in—to borrow a phrase from the correct—virtue-signs on their grounds. Whatever one’s view on the merits of Ocasio-Cortez or the rest of Squad’s policies, no one can deny that they are there to work.
It’s an important distinction, and it will serve them all well, especially as Democrats are expected to lose their majority in the House this November. It will be the first time since Ocasio-Cortez’s tenure that Democrats have been in the minority. Thus, for the time being, she could continue to serve as someone who would ask scathing questions that none of her contemporaries would. One might think she is making the late Elijah Cummings proud.