The ongoing feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “The Squad” — four progressive freshmen representatives including Boston’s Ayanna Pressley and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — is sowing division at a time when the Democratic Party needs to project a unified — and more centrist — front to retain its majority and knock Donald Trump from office, political observers say.
The battle that began over an emergency border aid package in late June has now sparked a war of words between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez — the leader of the so-called “squad” that includes Pressley, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — with Pressley joining the fray.
The barbs have turned personal, despite Pelosi’s public message of unity. At her weekly press conference Thursday, Pelosi told reporters, “We respect the value of every member of our caucus. The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing.” But behind closed doors, Pelosi sounded a different note, reportedly saying, “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.”
Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post earlier this week, “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.”
While other minority representatives have jumped to the freshmen lawmakers’ defense, political experts tell the Herald that Pelosi is doing what she needs to do to maintain Democratic control of the House.
“What she’s doing is singling out four women from very left-wing, safe Democratic districts,” Elaine Kamarck, of the Brookings Institution, said of Pelosi. “If there were white guys doing the same thing, she’d be doing the same thing.”
Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez are “wonderful representatives,” Kamarck said. But “the reason Nancy Pelosi is speaker and not minority leader is because Democrats won a lot of purple districts — districts that are very much unlike Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district, and unlike Ayanna’s district — and if they want to retain leadership … they’ve got to worry about those districts.”
Democratic strategist Patrick Dorton said, “Attempts by some of the progressive freshman to bully the Democratic Party or their own leadership are counterproductive. If the Democratic Party wants to win in 2020, they need to be on the same team. And right now, that’s Pelosi’s team.”
Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said, “I think at some point, if they don’t start playing ball, they’ll find themselves frozen out of real power.”
Lina Francis, Pressley’s communications director, said in a statement, “The Congresswoman remains committed to working in partnership with her constituents and her colleagues in congress to develop bold solutions to solve pervasive inequalities felt throughout the country.”
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