Pelosi suggested to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in an article published Saturday that the so-called “Squad” — a group of liberal freshmen that include Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — had a limited following inside the House.
Pelosi specifically pointed to the example of the House-passed Democratic border bill in late June, which the group opposed. The four were alone in their protest vote against the Pelosi-backed bill.
“All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi said in the New York Times interview. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Pelosi defended those comments after leaving a closed-door caucus meeting where she delivered a stern warning to her party’s left to keep their criticism of fellow Democrats to themselves. She noted that it was the party’s more moderate members who delivered control of the House to Democrats and asked lawmakers to be respectful of that.
“A majority is a fragile thing,” she said, according to two people present for the remarks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting, adding that members should show “some level of respect and sensitivity” to more moderate colleagues: “You make me the target, but don’t make our [moderates] the target in all of this, because we have important fish to fry.”
Amid last month’s blowup over the border bill, the wings of the party traded sharp attacks.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, publicly referred to a group of moderate Democrats as the “Child Abuse Caucus” as they joined Pelosi, other leaders and Republicans in backing a $4.6 billion emergency package for the border. Many Democrats have also taken note as Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, criticized both Pelosi and moderate Democrats.
“All these articles want to claim what a legislative mastermind Pelosi is, but I'm seeing way more strategic smarts” from the four freshman members,” he wrote over the weekend. “Pelosi is just mad that she got outmaneuvered [again] by Republicans.”
In other recent tweets, Chakrabarti and another Ocasio-Cortez staffer, Dan Riffle, urged their Twitter followers to support a primary challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) — something that struck many Democrats as a serious breach of decorum. Chakrabarti is a former leader of the Justice Democrats, a group that has played an active role in opposing Democratic House incumbents — including former Rep. Joseph Crowley, whom Ocasio-Cortez ousted last year.
Inside the caucus meeting Wednesday, Pelosi specifically called out Capitol Hill staffers who criticize fellow Democrats.
“This is a team. On a team, you play as a team,” she said, according to the people in the room. She added that members or staff who feel inclined to publicly criticize a Democratic colleague should “think twice,” she said, before adding: “Actually, don’t do that: Think once.”
“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it,” she continued. “But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay.”
After addressing the Dowd comments to reporters Wednesday, Pelosi walked away but then turned around to add: “By the way, our caucus is very upset about some of the comments that have come from the staff. Perhaps you’re not aware of what's going on?”
Pelosi’s comments seeming dismissive of the “Squad” elicited swift criticism among activists and on social media among liberals who have urged Pelosi to take a more aggressive stance on impeachment against President Trump and other issues. Allies of the squad argue that Pelosi is unfairly sidelining lawmakers with a large and growing following outside of Capitol Hill.
Ocasio-Cortez told reporters Tuesday that Pelosi’s comments were “just kind of puzzling more than anything.”
“The idea that the millions of people that we represent matter less or don’t matter, I think, is a notion that I disagree with,” she said.
Pelosi rejected any criticism Wednesday: “Four people voted for the bill. That’s what I said. And no other people followed.”