Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dares moderate Dems to grow thicker skin

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is no snowflake.

The rookie New York congresswoman — who has made plenty of enemies on both sides of the aisle with her bold progressive agenda — dared moderate Democrats to get on her level Wednesday, saying she always feels “uncomfortable” but that the uneasiness is worth it.

“Change always requires a certain degree of discomfort,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Daily News in an exclusive interview at her district office in Jackson Heights, Queens. “Speaking of these issues does make you a target."

“I’m uncomfortable all the time,” she added with a laugh.

Spending her first 200 days in office advocating for ambitious policy blueprints like a Green New Deal and Medicare for All — which critics say are fiscally impossible — Ocasio-Cortez has positioned herself as a left-wing firebrand who never backs down from a fight.

As one of the most outspoken progressives in the House, she has been no stranger to criticizing moderates in her party since she was elected last year.

Recently, she blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the top Democrat in Congress — as “outright disrespectful” for “singling out” her and other progressive “women of color" for criticism.

“While I try to be kind, I also stand up for myself and other colleagues,” Ocasio-Cortez told The News.

By the same token, Ocasio-Cortez’s ex-chief of staff has accused some centrists of acting like racist Dixiecrats for voting in favor of border funding approved by President Trump. Meanwhile, the Justice Democrats — a political action committee closely aligned with the congresswoman — is launching and threatening primary challenges against middle-of-the-road Democrats, including longtime Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks, prompting criticism that Ocasio-Cortez’s flank is fracturing the party.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the State of the Union 2019
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the State of the Union 2019
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), dressed in white in tribute to the women's suffrage movement, arrives for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, speaks with colleagues during a State of the Union address by U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that partisan investigations threaten economic progress under his administration. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat of New York, from left, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat of New York, and Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat of California, speak prior to a State of the Union address by U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that partisan investigations threaten economic progress under his administration. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) smiles, dressed in white in tribute to the women's suffrage movement, as she arrives for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2019. - Omar wears a pin of Jakelin Caal, the Guatemalan migrant girl who died in US custody after illegally crossing the border with her father. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, smiles as U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, delivers a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that partisan investigations threaten economic progress under his administration. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks with other women wearing white ahead of the State of the Union address before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Democratic women wore white as a reference to the suffragette movement. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) high-fives other congresswomen after President Donald J. Trump acknowledged newly elected female members of congress during the State of the Union address before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) ahead of the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump's second State of the Union address was postponed one week due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: First row from left, Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., are seen in the House Chamber as President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, high fives Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., as Democratic members celebrate in the House Chamber as President Donald Trump recognized their achievement of electing a record number of women to Congress, during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 5: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, walks with her State of the Union guest Ana Maria Archila to the House chamber for President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) watches President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) watches President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other female lawmakers cheer during President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., attends a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center, who plan to wear 'suffragette white' to the State of the Union address to show solidarity for women's agendas on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: First row from left, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Alma Adams, D-N.C., pose for a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center, who plan to wear 'suffragette white' to the State of the Union address to show solidarity for women's agendas on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, greets Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., after a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center who will wear 'suffragette white' to the State of the Union address to show solidarity for women's agendas on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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But the Bronx-born 29-year-old wishes her fellow Dems would grow thicker skin.

“One of the things that is hard is that sometimes folks take things very personally, almost too personally,” she said. “I have no intent to personally criticize my colleagues. I think sometimes people are trying to read too deeply."

Rather, Ocasio-Cortez said there’s no room for safe spaces. She thinks it’s healthy for Democrats to occasionally take aim at each other.

“It does create some of that discomfort,” the Millennial congresswoman said. “But if we don’t actively try to be better, then we’re only going to have one option and that’s not going to be the best one.”

Among the proposals Ocasio-Cortez is currently pushing is the Fair Chance at Housing Act, a bill she hashed out with California Sen. Kamala Harris that would squash rules preventing some people with criminal records from being eligible for federal housing assistance.

Under current rules, residents could be booted from housing complexes like the ones operated by NYCHA for being convicted of a single drug offense.

Ocasio-Cortez said her Queens-Bronx-spanning district in particular suffers from such rules.

“For a very long time, it has felt like our communities’ needs were the ones that were always negotiated off first. We’re a bargaining chip,” she said.

The housing bill is one of 10 Ocasio-Cortez has sponsored since she took office in January. She has co-sponsored 256 pieces of legislation in all.

Ocasio-Cortez touted that she has also serves as a federal liaison for her district, opening 363 constituent services cases and closing 218 of them. A majority of the cases, she said, had to do with immigration issues.

She said the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown has rocked her district, which has one of the nation’s largest immigrant populations. And it’s not only impacting undocumented immigrants.

“Even though they say ‘you’re fine if you come in legally, you’re fine if you come in the right way,’ they’re making the right way virtually impossible. They are putting people into an undocumented status,” Ocasio-Cortez said, referring to Trump’s rollbacks of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs.

Ocasio-Cortez tied Trump’s hardline immigration agenda back to her vision that Democrats can’t be bothered with playing nice.

“Trump is so far gone that if you think that having a mild critique about how we can do something better as Democrats is going to drive people to vote for Trump, then those folks were probably likely to vote Trump at any point,” she said.

Instead of fretting about whether some centrists may be rubbed the wrong way, Ocasio-Cortez said the Democratic Party needs to present an “ambitious and inspirational” alternative to Trump.

She said she’s not actively rooting out moderates from the party, but if some are lost in the shuffle, so be it.

“I’m not trying to drive my colleagues out. I’m trying to challenge voters,” she said. “I’m trying to challenge folks who cast votes to think, ‘maybe we can go further.’"

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