How the arguing between Nancy Pelosi and the freshmen Democratic members of Congress went public

WASHINGTON – In a Thursday morning press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to address the public back and forth between her and the progressive wing of the House Democratic Caucus.   

“I said what I’m going to say in the caucus. They took offense because I addressed at the request of my members an offensive tweet,” said Pelosi. “My members took offense at that, I addressed that…I’m not going to be addressing it any further.” 

Pelosi was referring to an outspoken group of four freshmen representatives: Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. They are colloquially referred to as “the Squad.” 

Directly addressing some of their complaints, though, Pelosi said that legislation would be introduced in the coming weeks to ensure the health and safety of children at the border. 

“Most of it is what we wanted the Senate to accept before the break,” Pelosi explained. “When it comes to children, I’m a lioness, I’m going to protect our cubs.” 

Here is how we got to this point. 

How did this public back-and-forth start? 

The conflict between Pelosi and progressive Democrats stemmed from a debate over a spending package for humanitarian relief on the southern U.S. border. Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats had wanted to add stronger protections for migrants in the initial House draft of the bill and were the only four Democratic lawmakers to vote against it, which ended up not being the final version of the bill.

Pelosi later caved to Republicans and allowed the House to pass the Senate version of the bill, a compromise version lacking many of the protections for children progressive Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had called for. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had called the bill a “betrayal of American values.” 

“They’re just four people” 

Pelosi had dismissed the first-term lawmakers in a July 6 interview with the New York Times, saying “they’re just four people.” 

“All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi said, according to Maureen Dowd’s column in the Times. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

These comments provoked a backlash from the four lawmakers. 

Twitter sniping 

“That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment,” Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter.  “And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country.” 

Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti said on Twitter that the four Democrats had opposed Pelosi’s version of the bill because they did not trust a promise he says McConnell made to Pelosi that he would pass the House version of the bill. 

“Nah. It is deeper than that,” Tlaib wrote in response to Chakrabarti’s tweet. “Why would we fund a broken system that rips children away from their parents, deny asylum seekers due process & fuels a racist ideology that dehumanizes people?” 

Tlaib also retweeted two posts that fired back at Pelosi’s comment to Dowd, including one from immigrants right advocate Greisa Martínez Rosas who said, “The strategy is simple: Don’t fall for lies. Play to Win,” and another from Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein that pointed out the “pivotal policy proposals” authored by each member of “The Squad.” 

“You know they’re just salty about WHO is wielding the power to shift ‘public sentiment’ these days, sis. Sorry not sorry,” Omar tweeted. 

“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it”

In the weekly House Democrat breakfast on July 10, Pelosi addressed the complaints, urging respect among her fellow Democrats. 

“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it,” Pelosi told the group, according to a source in the room. “But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.”

“On a team you play as a team. If you want to be not on the team, that is OK because that is part of the team spirit – you just want to not play in that round,” Pelosi said. 

She said, “I hope there will be some level of respect and sensitivity for our – each individual experience that we bring to this caucus.”

“I take responsibility,” Pelosi said, according to the source. Referring to two centrist coalitions of Democrats, she added, “You make me the target, but don’t make our Blue Dogs and our new Dems the target in all of this because we have important fish to fry.”

“Explicit singling out of newly elected women of color” 

Ocasio-Cortez later argued that Pelosi’s comments and alleged isolation of the progressive wing amounted to “the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.” 

“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 said in an interview with the Washington Post. “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.”

Contributing: Christal Hayes, William Cummings

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