New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told CNN on Sunday that people will needlessly die from the coronavirus until President Trump uses emergency powers under the Defense Production Act to recruit businesses into producing medical supplies and protective gear.
"We cannot wait until people start really dying in large numbers to start production, especially of more complicated equipment like ventilators and hospital beds," she told CNN "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper. "We need to start this production right now to get ready for the surge that is coming in two to three weeks."
"There are not enough face masks, gloves, ventilators, hospital beds to get us through this. Many hospitals are already at capacity or are approaching capacity. And there is kind of no real stream in sight from the federal government on where these materials are coming from."
"You know, companies are donating what they can. That is great. It is not enough," she continued. "And the fact that the President has not really invoked the Defense Production Act for the purpose of emergency manufacture is going to cost lives."
Cortez also described what kind of financial aid the government should provide during a months-long mandatory lockdown: "One of the issues here, is, of course, we need to be expanding unemployment, but there are a lot of workers in our economy that will not be covered by unemployment because they're hourly workers, they're gig workers, they are freelance and contract workers. And so what we really need to do -- and really that's why these checks -- getting checks into people's hands is important. I do think it should be universal."
CNN, JAKE TAPPER: What are you hearing from your constituents and the health care workers in your district about what they need?
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Yes.
So, I have several major hospitals in my district, from Jacobi Medical Center to Elmhurst Hospital, New York Presbyterian, and one of the things that we're hearing over and over again from hospitals, again, is this point on personal protective equipment.
There are not enough face masks, gloves, ventilators, hospital beds to get us through this. Many hospitals are already at capacity or approaching capacity. And there is kind of no real stream in sight from the federal government on where these materials are coming from.
Companies are donating what they can. That is great. It is not enough. And the fact that the president has not really invoked the Defense Production Act for the purpose of manufacture -- of emergency manufacture is going to cost lives.
TAPPER: The FEMA administrator, I asked him about that. He said, it's not needed because so many American companies are stepping up to the plate and volunteering to do the right thing.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: It is absolutely needed.
We are thankful to anyone who's pitching in on this effort, but we are nowhere near the beds, the capacity -- and the capacity that we need in this country.
And the -- we're hearing it every step of the way from this administration. First, we were hearing it was a hoax. Then we were hearing that everything was fine. Then we were hearing that the fundamentals of the economy was OK, until the crash comes.
And we cannot wait until people start really dying in large numbers to start production, especially of more complicated equipment like ventilators and hospital beds.
We need to start this production right now to get ready for the surge that is coming in two to three weeks.
TAPPER: Let's turn to congress. Right now negotiations are ongoing on an economic stimulus package. Chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said yesterday it could be as high as $2 trillion. You suggested that's still not enough.
If you were writing this bill, how much would you spend and where would the money go?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think first and foremost, there is almost no number too small. I don't think a lot of people out there really understand the systemic shock that is being experienced in the economy right now.
Folks are comparing this to 2008. This is very, very different than even 2008, because what we have seen is that almost overnight our entire economy, even the felt economy from jobs, is ceasing almost overnight. So, the question is not just the size but what we are doing with those funds, because if we are having a huge package, and this is something for people to look out for, when this package rolls out there is no reason for corporate bailouts to be included in an emergency relief package.
We should be focusing, is unemployment expanding, are we getting checks in people's hands, are we suspending mortgage, rent, and debt payments? If we're able to do that, if we're able to get money into households and stop the bleeding with pauses on money going out of households, then we can get working families through this thing.
But if all of this money is going to bailing out the airline industry in a way that does not help workers, if it's going to bailing out banks and other industries without helping workers, then it's not going to be enough and in fact it could be too big. So it's really about how we're using these funds.
TAPPER: So you seem to be suggesting that you support, as a lot of people do in both parties, direct payments to the American people. Some Democrats have said that the $1,200 figure that's been proposed is way too small.
How much money do you think the government should be giving the public directly and should it go to everyone or just people who need it?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, so the financial services committee actually released their own plan. And I am very supportive of that plan, which has about $2,000 this month for every American with an additional $1,000 per child. But in addition to that, it stops payments.
So it stops -- it halts mortgage payments, rent payments, and all major consumer debt. And that is the key, because when you're able to stop the money going out, then that money that you do give goes a much longer way. So I'm very supportive of both those measures.
TAPPER: You used to work as a bartender so you know what it's like for food service workers, people in the service industry who face the prospect of their hours being slashed. No customers, so there's no tips, not to mention obviously people being fired.
What are some of the economic realities that you're hearing from your constituents?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh, I mean, from the moment that the business closures started happening, I've been very scared for a lot of these workers. All I can think about is what I would have done just two or three years ago.
And so one of the issues here is that, of course, we need to be expanding unemployment. But there are a lot of workers in our economy that will not be covered by unemployment because they're hourly workers, they are gig workers, they are freelance and contract workers. And unemployment does not cover those workers, even though they're essentially unemployed right now. All of their contracts are frozen up or their gigs -- their hours are drastically slashed but not completely slashed.
And so what we really need to do, really that's why these checks -- getting checks into people's hands is important. I do think it should be universal. I hear the argument of people saying, why are you going to give a check to Bill Gates? One of the things that we're saying is, tax it back a year from now so you don't have to worry about a big complicated bureaucratic means test up front, mail them all out to everybody and let's get it back from the folks who don't need it next year.
TAPPER: Let me ask you a question. You're part of a new generation of leaders in this country. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that there's an issue with young people in New York State not complying with the stay-at-home order. He said they need to practice -- quote -- "social responsibility."
What's your message to the young people or people of any age who are still disregarding the stay at home rules?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, I've been speaking about this for, you know, over a week now, in that if you are a young person in America today, you need to stay home. There was so much messaging about how coronavirus is only impacting older people and that younger people don't have to worry about it for their personal health.
Well, let me tell you something, in the state of New York, about 55 percent of our cases are with folks 18 to 49. And when you have that, you know, A, you are able to be directly impacted, and B, you're going to get your mom sick, you're going to get your grandparents sick, you're going to get people you love and that you care for sick if you are asymptomatic. So you may not think that you have it and you very well might and you especially might if you continue to go out and live life as usual.
TAPPER: The Department of Justice has submitted to Congress several legislative proposals on how to deal with the impact of the coronavirus on the judicial system including one measure that would allow a district's chief judge to delay the defendant's right to a speedy trial after a request from the attorney general. What do you think about that?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think it is abhorrent. This is not a time and, you know, it is -- there is a long history in this country and in other countries of using emergencies as times to really start to encroach upon people's civil rights. And in fact this is the time when we need them the absolute most.
We have to keep an eye out for these kind of authoritarian and frankly, for this expansion of -- rather, and suspension of rule of law, it does not matter how urgent times are, we have to make sure that we retain our civil rights and there's no reason to be waiving folks' civil rights in an emergency.
TAPPER: Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, thank you so much for your time, we appreciate it. Stay safe.