A feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and four progressive freshman Democrats in Congress known colloquially as “The Squad” continues to simmer despite her attempt at a unifying speech to colleagues about keeping any quarrels in the family.
The Squad is comprised of the high-profile and dogged left-wing campaigners elected to the House in last year’s midterms: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.
All have clashed with Pelosi—herself a fierce campaigner but who is focused ruthlessly on the practicalities of delivering legislative change in Congress even if it means compromising on ideals—about policy, messaging, and, perhaps most importantly of all, party discipline.
Pelosi warned House Democrats at a meeting on Wednesday “do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK,” POLITICO reported, and instead go to her with any complaints. She does not want Democratic disunity to be the media story.
“In every family you have your moments, right?” Pelosi said, according to BuzzFeed News. “Do you not have your moments in your family? Do you all agree all the time on everything? Do you? We’re a family and we have our moments and we’re like a kaleidoscope…But we’re all a resource to each other and we must never undermine the strength of anyone in our caucus.”
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, tweeted afterwards that she was “not scolding progressives. She was saying to all Members that we as a family should have our conversations together as a Caucus not on Twitter. This was a general comment not aimed at any particular Member or group. This was a unifying speech & well received.”
Both sides have traded barbs. Pelosi’s criticisms were characteristically withering. Of the New York rep Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi said a “glass of water” could win in strongly Democratic districts, though she did include her own California constituency in that assessment.
Pelosi also spoke dismissively about the “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change and stimulate the American economy that Ocasio-Cortez is spearheading, a policy package the speaker views as unachievable politically and which she called the “Green Dream or whatever.”
The latest furore erupted after comments by Pelosi that featured in a New York Times article over the weekend about the recent passage in the House of a Senate bill to send more money to the border, some of which is for desperately-needed aid but also for ICE.
Regarded as a loss for Pelosi, who only “reluctantly” supported the bill late on, many Democrats were unhappy that the leadership did not secure greater protections for those held in detention, particularly children, in what Ocasio-Cortez and others have called “concentration camps.”
Leading up to the vote, Omar tweeted: “A vote for Mitch McConnell’s border bill is a vote to keep kids in cages and terrorize immigrant communities. How can we trust Donald Trump won’t turn around and use this to fund his deportation plan or worse?
“Let’s be clear, we can’t cosign these horrendous xenophobic policies of family separation, metering, and Remain in Mexico. That is what we are ultimately doing with this vote. History will not look fondly on this moment.”
To The Squad, passing the bill was selling out and giving up on the fight for the children stuck on terrible conditions at the border. “We didn’t even bother to negotiate,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “We are a House majority and we need to act like it.”
According to The Times, Pelosi felt the bill was as strong as they could achieve, and chided The Squad for voting against it. “All 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.”
Following those comments, Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, lashed out hard at Pelosi on Twitter, questioning her reputation as a “legislative mastermind” and also accused her of “minimizing rape allegations against Trump.”
Chakrabarti also tweeted that The Squad “weren’t happy about giving a blank check to Trump, but they decided to use their ‘public whatever’ to bring focus to injustice at the border. Pelosi decided to use hers to belittle her freshman colleagues? This is so baffling.”
For now, it seems, each side is just getting on with it. Pelosi is unlikely to shift her long-held position that only hard pragmatism can achieve meaningful legislative results in Congress. And The Squad—energetic, idealistic, zealous, and unapologetic—are making their own way.
Ocasio-Cortez told The New Yorker that she doesn’t really have a relationship with Pelosi. And anyway, she’s often more comfortable as an outsider.
“I think I’m better on the outside looking in on this issue,” she said of climate change, after turning down a spot on the House committee, offered to her by Pelosi, because it did not meet her requirements—a mission to draft legislation, wield subpoena power, and that all members shun fossil fuel money—which were denied.
Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, told The Washington Post that Pelosi’s comments won’t impact her work. In fact, she said she’s taking Pelosi’s original advice—to represent her district. Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, called Pelosi’s comments “demoralizing,” but remains committed.
“Thank God my mother gave me broad shoulders and a strong back. I can handle it. I’m not worried about me,” Pressley told The Post. “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.”
For her part, Omar tweeted: “Patetico! You know they’re just salty about WHO is wielding the power to shift ‘public sentiment’ these days, sis. Sorry not sorry.”
The question now is: Who will win this emerging civil war? Will Pelosi compromise too far for the moderates, pushing them towards The Squad and fracturing Dems’ majority? Or will The Squad’s dogmatism isolate them in the party, limiting their impact and influence in Congress?