Why Nancy Pelosi Keeps Clashing With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & Her Squad

Photo: Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a shot at freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar in an interview published Sunday, leading to weeklong wall-to-wall coverage of the ideological and generational fractures within the Democratic party.
"All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world," Pelosi said of the foursome, adding, "But they didn't have any following. They're four people and that's how many votes they got."
The comments, which followed the passing of a $4.6 billion emergency border aid bill in late June, set the internet alight. Members of the “squad,” as the freshman congresswomen have called themselves, voted against the measure, arguing that it didn’t go far enough to protect migrant children in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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Following the publication of Pelosi’s remarks, Ocasio-Cortez replied on Twitter: "That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment. And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country."
"Squad" members weren't the only ones to protest the border bill's passing. "I am looking for a new pharmaceutical drug that builds spine," Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who is the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus alongside Rep. Mark Pocan, said after the vote.
This isn't the first time the freshman representatives have sparred with Pelosi. In some cases, they've even gotten top Democrats to follow their lead by pushing for bold policy proposals and speaking publicly about their disagreements with the leadership, despite being the new kids in town — such as when many of the presidential hopefuls adopted the Green New Deal.
Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images.
It's also not the first time Pelosi has publicly dismissed the freshman congresswomen. Ever since Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib came to Washington, Pelosi has made at least half a dozen remarks dismissing the group. In April, she sought to undercut support for Medicare for All — a proposal the entire foursome and many other progressives support. In February, she referred to the progressive Green New Deal proposal, championed by AOC, as "the green dream or whatever they call it."
The feud has become very public over the past week, with House members rushing to defend either Pelosi or the squad. In a closed-door meeting Wednesday, Pelosi pleaded with the Democratic caucus to stop the infighting and instead focus their anger on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who regularly obstructs any legislation Democrats put forth. "Some of you are here to make a beautiful pâté, but we're making sausage most of the time," Pelosi said, a senior Democratic aide told CNN. "Mitch McConnell is the person who stood in the way of our doing more, not anybody in our caucus."
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Pelosi is also seeking to defend moderate members who are likely to face tough re-election races after flipping longtime Republican-held seats or winning districts that President Donald Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. "You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it," Pelosi said, according to CNN. "But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay."
While it’s clear that the rhetorical sparring within the caucus will not end anytime soon, this fact does obscure that for all intents and purposes the Democrats have a united house. According to a ProPublica tracker, the four progressive congresswomen have only broken with Pelosi on two votes so far, including the border bill. AOC has agreed with Pelosi on 93% of votes. This suggests that Democrats in the current House, regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum, agree on most issues.
That’s a far cry from the majority in the previous Congress, where former House Speaker Paul Ryan had to deal with several factions within the Republican majority that were often at war. (See: The fight in the spring of 2017 to bring forward a measure repealing the Affordable Care Act that pleased everyone.) For example, House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows voted against Ryan 33% of the time in the 115th Congress.
Despite her disappointment at how Pelosi has undercut her closest allies, Ocasio-Cortez seems to understand that the speaker has a political strategy. She told The New Yorker that she doesn't have a personal relationship with Pelosi because she is, after all, just one of 235 members of the Democratic caucus. "I think leadership, their primary goal right now is making sure that everyone who won a swing seat comes back," Ocasio-Cortez said. "So I think that that’s where a lot of their time — rightfully, I think, justifiably — is invested, in those relationships."
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But she has also made it clear, in an interview with The Washington Post, that the optics of Pelosi's behavior matter. Ocasio-Cortez said: "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."
Defending AOC, Jayapal told Politico that she can relate to her comments about being singled out as a woman of color. "God, it totally resonates with me, absolutely," she said. "We women of color have faced this for such a long time... We are in a body of mainly old white men. You don't get to be here without having dealt with that, most people." About the freshman congresswomen's social media reach, she said, "I don’t think the Speaker is used to having a group of members who has bigger Twitter followings than her."
Pelosi said she is choosing not to address the controversy anymore. She told reporters on Thursday: "I've said what I'm going to say in the caucus."
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