Fact Check

Did AOC Refer to the U.S. and Its People as 'Garbage'?

The claim was one in a series of incendiary attacks against "the Squad" from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Published Jul 22, 2019

 (nrkbeta / Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via nrkbeta / Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the U.S. and its people "garbage."

In defending himself against criticism of his tweets that called on four non-white U.S. congresswomen to go back to their "totally broken and crime infested" countries, President Donald Trump leveled another incendiary falsehood against one of those congresswomen.

Of the four women presumably targeted, three — Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — were born in the United States. One, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), is a naturalized citizen and the first Somali-American to serve in Congress.

The controversy culminated with a crowd at a Trump rally in North Carolina on July 17, 2019, chanting "send her back" about Omar. Amid further criticism that the chant was racist, Trump stated he was "unhappy" with it and claimed he "started speaking very quickly" to cut the crowd off.

But that explanation didn't stick, because video of the incident showed Trump listening quietly to the crowd for roughly 10 seconds before continuing with the attack on Omar that prompted it.

So one day after claiming to "disavow" the chant, Trump on July 19 again changed course, this time renewing his attack on the women by taking one of Ocasio-Cortez's comments out of context and falsely stating she had referred to "our country and our people" as "garbage."

"I'm unhappy that a congresswoman, in this case a different one, can call our country and our people garbage," Trump said in response to a reporter's question about the chant and his commentary about it.

But Ocasio-Cortez didn't refer to the country or its people as garbage. During a March 2019 interview at South by Southwest, she instead criticized the leadership of both political parties for, in her view, abandoning working-class Americans and adopting an apathetic stance toward ambitious social programs while expecting everyone to settle for "10 percent better than garbage."

The question that prompted the response was asked by host and then-senior politics editor for The Intercept Briahna Gray, who said: "Why do you think it's taken so long to get candidates who are pushing issues like Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, $15 minimum wage, to the foreground?"

Following is a transcript and video of the exchange:

Ocasio-Cortez: I think it’s because, you know — So I’ll kind of go back with a story, because even though people, they try to characterize my district as far left and, “Oh my God, every socialist in America lives in East Bronx and Queens or whatever.” But there are a lot of Trump voting pockets of my district, and I talked to these folks and I’ll never forget — there are parts of my district that look like the middle of the country, believe it or not — and I’ll never forget this one older woman who came to me and said, “You know, I always voted Democrat because growing up, my dad told me that Democrats were the people that fight for the working man.” And we stopped. And the working man and woman and people is the majority of this country. So what I think we saw, was now both parties, frankly, abdicated their responsibility and it was just no one was fighting for working people who were struggling.

And so as a result, it almost created this opportunity, and you can take all of this anger and direct it to a negative and destructive end that allows a small group of people to benefit a great amount, or you have to take a really bold stance to bring it the other way and direct it to the possibility of what we can accomplish together. And I think the thing that is really hard for people to sometimes see, is that we are on this path of a slow erosion, and a slow, slow, slow move away from what we’ve always been. We’ll be 100 miles — you won’t even realize that you’ve drifted 100 miles. So when someone is talking about our core, it’s like, “Oh this is radical.”

But this isn’t radical, this is what we’ve always been. It’s just that now we’ve strayed so far away from what has really made us powerful and just and good and equitable and productive. And so, I think all of these things sound radical compared to where we are. But where we are is not a good thing. This idea of 10 percent better from garbage shouldn’t be what we settle for. It feels like moderate is not a stance, it’s just an attitude toward life of like, “meh.”

Gray: Well don’t hold back. Tell me how you really feel about incrementalism.

Ocasio-Cortez: But here’s the thing that upsets me is that we’ve become so cynical that we view “meh” or “eh” — we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naivete. When we think about the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of vision, and the “meh” is like worship now, for what? For what?

In sum, while Ocasio-Cortez criticized political leadership in the U.S. for failing to take on aspirational initiatives and expecting the public to settle for "10 percent better from garbage," she did not refer to the U.S. and its people as "garbage."


South by Southwest. "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez."   YouTube. 10 March 2019.

The Intercept. "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New Left."   9 March 2019.

Greenberg, Jon and Amy Sherman. "Fact-Checking Trump’s Misleading Attacks on Omar, Ocasio-Cortez in North Carolina."   The News & Observer. 18 July 2019.

Davis, Julie Hirschfeld, et al. "Trump Disavows ‘Send Her Back’ Chant After Pressure From G.O.P."   The New York Times. 18 July 2019.

Blake, Aaron. "This Video Shows Trump’s Claim That He Tried to Stop 'Send Her Back' Chants Is Utter Nonsense."   The Washington Post. 18 July 2019.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more