The tension between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and several high-profile freshman lawmakers has been building arguably since before their elections, and it seems to be cresting.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) comments this week to The Washington Post about Pelosi’s posture toward the most visible new lawmakers in her caucus — which include Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) — suggests that their differences might not just be ideological but rooted in something deeper.
“When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more-moderate members, which I understood,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Post’s Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis. “But the persistent singling out … it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
But on Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez told CNN that she does not believe that Pelosi is motivated by racial animus.
Still, Ocasio-Cortez’s words leave the impression that the disagreements are beginning to lead to poor optics: the leader of the establishment being “outright disrespectful” to neophyte women of color from working-class backgrounds trying to challenge the status quo.
In her interview with The Post, the New York Democrat was responding to Pelosi’s admonishment in a closed-door meeting that appeared directed at her and the other lawmakers that make up what’s been dubbed “the Squad.”
Pelosi on Thursday said she was responding to an “offensive tweet” from more-liberal Democrats referencing “Blue Dogs,” centrist Democrats.
“Our members took offense at that,” Pelosi said during her weekly news conference. “I addressed that … I’m not going to be discussing it any further.”
And Pelosi said she values the diversity of the Democratic Party’s lawmakers.
“We respect the value of every member of our caucus,” she said. “The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing. Diversity is our strength; unity is our power. And we have a big fight. We’re in the arena.”
But Pelosi has made it clear that she believes that infighting among the Democrats — specifically between the four new women and older, more-centrist Democrats — could jeopardize the left’s majority in the House and chance at winning the Senate and the White House next year.
“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay,” Pelosi told Democrats on Wednesday.
Pelosi has made a handful of public, pointed comments in recent weeks that have escalated the tensions. The most notable appeared in a New York Times interview over the weekend. Pelosi told Maureen Dowd of the group’s opposition to a border funding bill: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.”
That spurred a round of public responses from “the Squad,” which seems to have culminated in the closed-door meeting.
“I am worried about the signal that it sends to people I speak to and for, who sent me here with a mandate, and how it affects them,” Pressley said after the meeting of Pelosi’s reprimands of the group.
The optics, never so directly addressed until now, reads like a microcosm of a much larger rift in the Democratic Party: a battle between older establishment white liberals and younger people of color from activist backgrounds. Both groups want to defeat President Trump and replace his policies but often struggle to find common ground on which voices should be heard and which ideas should be implemented.
Pelosi has long presented herself as an advocate for people of color, counting some of the most senior black and Latino lawmakers in Congress as close allies in policymaking. And understandably so, as Democratic Party leaders have repeatedly acknowledged that they cannot accomplish their vision without the support of the base, which largely includes groups the freshmen lawmakers represent — people of color, women and working class voters in urban areas.
But public comments from the younger representatives — Pressley also called Pelosi’s comments “demoralizing” — highlight questions about those groups’ confidence in their party leaders’ interest in advocating for people of color.