The room was reaching a boiling point Wednesday as Democrats bickered about how to word a resolution condemning hate. Finally, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) got the microphone and issued a plea.
“Everyone stop tweeting,” she said at the caucus meeting.
The next day, Schakowsky explained that her comment wasn’t meant to be literal — she is fine with the social media platform. But she has become alarmed by how often colleagues use social media to criticize fellow Democrats.
Democratic leaders are trying to coach the rank and file, particularly the freshmen, to embrace Schakowsky’s sentiment.
“My goodness, I don’t want the disagreements I have in my family to be in public,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) said Friday. “This is a family.”
In recent weeks, the so-called Democratic family has been fighting in the open, particularly on Twitter. It has helped fuel stories about a divided caucus.
Last weekend, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) attacked a “small splinter group” of Democrats who voted with Republicans on an amendment to Democrats’ gun control legislation.
“If you’re mad that I think people SHOULD KNOW when Dems vote to expand ICE powers, then be mad,” she tweeted in response to reports that she threatened to share the list of amendment supporters with liberal activists.
It was one of more than six tweets she sent criticizing Democrats that day. She cited several possible abuses by border agents because the amendment would require reporting undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they failed a background check.
“Having a D next to your name doesn’t make that right,” the first-term liberal star wrote.
That afternoon, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.), the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, accused Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) of making “hurtful” anti-Semitic comments about Jewish American support for Israel.
“I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” Lowey, a 26-year member of Congress, tweeted about the 37-year-old newcomer.
The two had not spoken about Omar’s comments beforehand. The freshman was traveling in Africa, but she fired off seven response tweets to her 700,000 followers.
“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country,” she wrote.
Late last Sunday night, after Rep. Juan Vargas (Calif.) tweeted that Omar perpetuated “hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Ocasio-Cortez responded with a trio of tweets to her 3.4 million followers criticizing the fourth-term Democrat’s unwavering loyalty to Israel.
All of this had set the stage for heated caucus meetings about how to handle a resolution that, as originally drafted, would have condemned only anti-Semitism. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team could not tamp down the divisions in the caucus, there for all to see on Twitter.
When Democrats finally emerged from another closed-door huddle Thursday, they had rallied around a broadly worded resolution opposing most forms of hate, including anti-Semitism and homophobia. Hours later, the caucus unanimously voted for the measure.
The week of friction has led to some soul searching, as Democrats realized that airing their laundry in public only helps Republicans.
“I do think it is interesting to see how some incidents, I think, can be weaponized to target the caucus and that it’s pretty surgical in the way that it’s done,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So I’m kind of learning about those dynamics.”
From Wednesday through Friday, she focused almost all of her tweet fire on Republicans and conservative activists, calling out the 23 GOP lawmakers who voted against the anti-hate resolution.
When she talked about fellow Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez offered only praise, even giving a “shout out” to Rep. Joe Cunningham (S.C.) for his questioning of a Trump administration official about climate change.
A week earlier, Cunningham was one of the 26 Democrats on Ocasio-Cortez’s “list” of Democrats who voted with Republicans.
Schakowsky has encouraged Democrats to talk to one another before publicly criticizing their positions. Almost a quarter of the caucus members are in their first term, barely two months into office. Many angry Twitter exchanges are occurring between lawmakers who hardly know each other.
Some longtime Democrats barely know the first and last names of the freshmen, let alone anything about their backgrounds.
Omar and Lowey, for example, had not met when they engaged in their Twitter dispute. The two did meet in person a few days ago to discuss the issues, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (La.), a five-term lawmaker and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he has been organizing small dinner parties with several freshmen so he can get to know them.
“The more we get to do anything where we learn other people’s life experiences, I think it adds,” Richmond said.
Most members of Congress rely on their staff members to run their social media accounts. But lawmakers who tweet themselves often have more flair, drawing more attention and followers.
But Twitter, with its limit of 280 characters per tweet, often brings out the sharper edges.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (Tex.), a freshman, is among the most prolific Republicans on Twitter. He frequently engages his counterparts on the platform, even as he’s still learning who they are.
“In a sense, it’s our job. Our job is to refute each other publicly,” Crenshaw said Friday, adding that he focuses on ideas and policy. “What I don’t do is attack the character of the people.”
In one memorable jab at Ocasio-Cortez, Crenshaw tweeted that he couldn’t care less about videos of her dancing while in college, but he did critique her idea of a 70 percent tax on income over $10 million.
“Take stabs at those ideas, but try to be respectful of each other,” he said.
Democratic leaders do not want to discourage their members from using social media. They say they just want everyone to think about the ramifications of each message before posting.
“My whole thing is, if you’re going to tweet, think about it and decide whether or not this tweet will cause headway or a headline,” Clyburn said. “And if you want the headline, you’d better be careful. All headlines are not good.”