President Trump vowed during his State of the Union address on Tuesday that "America will never be a socialist country," in an apparent rebuke to self-described Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders that drew loud cheers and a standing ovation from Republicans in the House chamber — as well as supportive applause from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In response, Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News after the speech: “I thought it was great. I think he’s scared."
The progressive firebrand pointedly did not applaud as Trump praised an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, Elvin Hernandez, for breaking up a notorious human trafficking ring, and she often stared ahead expressionless during the president’s remarks. In an interview later Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez said she was asking herself, "Is this a campaign stop or is this a State of the Union?"
The country’s government in recent years limited citizens’ access to foreign currency, implemented substantial subsidies and price controls on food and other items, and fell victim to sweeping corruption – before effectively collapsing last month.
"Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela, and its new interim president, Juan Guaido," Trump began. "We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.
"Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country," Trump continued, prompting boos from Republicans in the chamber. "America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free."
Then, after a prolonged chant of "USA" broke out, Trump concluded, "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
Democrats largely remained seated as Republicans resumed the "USA" chant and applauded for several seconds. Sanders kept his head in his hand and grimaced, while Pelosi clapped in her seat.
Pelosi has already sparred publicly several times with Ocasio-Cortez, who sought last month to reject a Pelosi-backed rules package that would have effectively curbed some spending. Democratic leaders quashed that attempted revolt overwhelmingly. And Ocasio-Cortez last year personally joined environmentalist protesters conducting a sit-in at Pelosi’s office.
"Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialst country."
The effective collapse of Venezuela has forced some far-left progressive Democrats into an awkward position. In a series of social media posts in January, Sanders — who is considering another run for the White House — acknowledged that "the economy is a disaster" in Venezuela, but he largely blamed the Maduro government for conducting what he called a "violent crackdown" on dissidents and the rule of law.
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez is set to unveil a massive "Green New Deal" with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey next week, and on Monday she told her fellow representatives in a letter that the proposal calls for a "national, social, industrial and economic mobilization at a scale not seen since World War II."
Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, have not yet signed onto the expansive plan.
The Green New Deal proposal would lead to national net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, according to Ocasio-Cortez’s letter, “through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers,” while also generating millions of “good, high-wage jobs."
Through it all, the Green New Deal would additionally “promote justice and equity by preventing current and repairing historic oppression to frontline and vulnerable communities," according to Ocasio-Cortez.
Several analysts have cautioned that the liberal firebrand is in over her head, even though the as-yet vague and uncertain details about the Green New Deal render a precise calculation impossible. Physicist Christopher Clack has warned that the cost could easily be into the trillions.
“It’s a daunting task, and I’m not sure that the authors of the Green New Deal fully comprehend how much they’ll need,” Clack said in an interview with The Hill.
Institute for Energy Research president Tom Pyle was more blunt: “One hundred percent renewable energy defies the laws of physics. It would be impossible to achieve.”
And Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute, said progressives were overcompensating. “I understand the value of aspirational goals,” Bledsoe said. “My personal view is, that undermines the credibility of the effort.”
Nevertheless, some 70 Democratic lawmakers have so far tentatively endorsed a Green New Deal plan, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, both of whom are looking at 2020 presidential campaigns.