Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been “singling out” freshman congresswomen of color — the latest charge in a growing rift between the leader of the party in the chamber and the high-profile progressive freshman.
The comments from lawmakers highlight the tension Pelosi is facing trying to keep her caucus united between a liberal left wing of the party, the moderates that flipped red or purple districts as well as establishment members of the party. But over the past week, it’s remarks that Pelosi herself made that appears to have angered a group of four lawmakers — shorthandedly referred to on Capitol Hill as a “the squad” — which includes Ocasio-Cortez.
“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 Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday.
“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,” Ocasio-Cortez added.
Ocasio-Cortez stood by her claim Thursday that Pelosi has been unfairly zeroing in on freshman women of color.
“It’s really just pointing out the pattern, right? We’re not talking about just progressives, it’s signaling out four individuals,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN on Capitol Hill. “And knowing the media environment that we’re operating in, knowing the amount of death threats that we get, knowing the amount of concentration detention, I think it’s just worth asking why.”
Asked if she thinks Pelosi has racial animus or is racist, Ocasio-Cortez said unequivocally, “No, no, absolutely not, absolutely not.”
During her weekly news conference later Thursday, Pelosi did not directly respond to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments.
“We respect the value of every member of our caucus,” Pelosi told reporters when asked by CNN about recent criticism of Ocasio-Cortez and three of her freshmen colleagues. “The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing.”
She argued that progressives took offense because she addressed “at the request of my members an offensive tweet,” alluding to Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff’s post that compared moderates to segregationists (he has since deleted the tweet).
“How they’re interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them, but I’m not going to be discussing it any further,” she said.
Other lawmakers criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s comments more directly. Rep. Lacy Clay of Missouri accused Ocasio-Cortez of using “the race card” in her comments to the Post.
“What a weak argument,” Clay said. “Because you can’t get your way, and because you are -, you’re getting pushback, you resort to use the race card? Unbelievable. Unbelievable to me.”
It’s clear Pelosi’s comments have directly affected the New York freshman. A progressive House aide tells CNN that they have never seen members picked on by a speaker this much before. This aide added that the “alienation” of the freshmen progressives has been a pattern but leaves it to Ocasi-Cortez to stand by her remarks, “unless you are a woman of color in that situation I don’t think you can judge.”
The aide adds the general feedback from associates is that Ocasio-Cortez should ask for a meeting to sit down with the Speaker to attempt to bring the temperature down. Not coming to terms with the speaker, the source says, could potentially “tank” her political career.
A senior Democratic aide says as of now there is no new meeting between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez planned.
This aide added that Pelosi has “said her peace,” at the caucus meeting to her members trying to explain her comments to The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd.
“People need to understand that Pelosi has to get to 218,” the senior Democratic aide says. “Ask her something and she relates it to votes.”
Besides Pelosi, other progressives are expressing interest in meeting with party leadership to lower the temperature. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said that he and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington are setting up a meeting with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland to discuss the relationship between the Progressive Caucus and the Democratic Caucus.
“This is a pretty busy week on the floor for everybody, but probably next week,” Pocan said.
A feud rumbling all year
On Wednesday, Pelosi made an impassioned plea to her caucus for party unity as tensions among the progressive and moderate fractions have been at a high.
But in an interview with The New York Times posted Saturday, Pelosi knocked four liberal members of her caucus who had voted against the House border supplemental package before the July Fourth recess.
Though she didn’t mention them by name, Pelosi was referring to Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
“All of these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told the Times. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
And in the caucus meeting Wednesday, Pelosi told members: “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 OK.”
Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez have clashed over some of the more progressive policies and stances that the New York Democrat has pushed.
The House speaker made similar comments about Ocasio-Cortez in an April interview.
“While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what’s important is that we have large numbers of votes on the floor of the House,” Ocasio-Cortez told USA Today.
In February, Pelosi announced the Democratic members for her select panel on the climate crisis without Ocasio-Cortez included. Pelosi told reporters that Ocasio-Cortez had turned down her offer to sit on the committee, according to Politico.
She was asked by Politico about the “Green New Deal” and responded dismissively about the sweeping legislative proposal Ocasio-Cortez has championed that aims to combat climate change.
“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi said, Politico reported. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.