House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued her criticism of the progressives in her party at a private House Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday. “Every time I’m attacked, I raise more money,” Pelosi said, looking directly at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and drawing huge applause from the caucus.
Pelosi claimed that party infighting was putting the House majority at risk by jeopardizing seats flipped from red to blue in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez has been openly critical on Twitter of Blue Dogs and New Democrats, who represent conservatives in the caucus. “Think twice about it,” Pelosi advised about staffers who tweet, according to a member in the room. “Actually, think only once about it and don’t do it.”
Pelosi has been engaged in a feud with the four freshman Democrats known as “the Squad,” comprised of Ocasio-Cortez; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., over their lack of support for a bill to provide funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall alongside humanitarian aid. Over the weekend, Pelosi ignited the infighting with comments to the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” she told the Times. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Some members in the room took the tongue-lashing in the caucus meeting to be largely directed at Ocasio-Cortez, who was present in the meeting. Ocasio-Cortez has been the most forceful in pushing back against Pelosi’s comments, though the other members of the Squad haven’t remained silent.
On Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez responded to Pelosi’s comments by citing distrust of the administration not to divert aid away from overcrowded detention centers, where many migrants have now died, toward immigration enforcement. Most recently, NBC News reported that migrant children have alleged sexual assault at the hands of officers.
The chief concern of the meeting for Democratic leadership back in Washington, though, was not the decrepit conditions or the allegations of assault against the children, but the public criticism of how the bill was handled — linked to a concern about upcoming congressional elections and the fate of moderate Democrats.
Initial reporting of the caucus meeting suggested that Pelosi was referring to Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., calling him out for his dubbing of the Problem Solvers Caucus as the “Child Abuse Caucus” on Twitter after the group organized an effort to block a House bill that would have mandated better conditions for children in detention at the border.
But Pocan was not at the meeting, and Pelosi called him directly after he was named in an article to assure him that she wasn’t referring to him, but talking about the staff tweets. “She didn’t know about my tweet and it wasn’t about me,” Pocan said of the message Pelosi relayed to him. Multiple members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, however, had earlier complained to Pelosi about Pocan’s tweet, a source with knowledge of their comments said.
Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter that Pelosi’s comments were meant to unify, targeted not at specific members but at the caucus in general:
The Speaker 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. https://t.co/znZfRAvnJ4— Drew Hammill (@Drew_Hammill) July 10, 2019
At the end of the meeting, Pelosi sought to heal the wounds she had freshly reopened, and asked a preacher to come forward and lead a prayer so that the rifts in the Democratic Party may be healed. No preacher came forward, as none were present, so Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., led the faithful. “His prayer was brief and powerful and incredibly well received,” said Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the caucus chair. “He simply prayed for a spirit of discernment, the spirit of being able to do the right thing and to move forward collectively.”
As important as it is to move forward collectively, Ocasio-Cortez said, she also has a district of constituents to represent. Democrats in swing districts often justify their votes to colleagues by saying that they want to vote for the right thing, but their voters back home just aren’t there for it. Ocasio-Cortez made her own version of that argument Wednesday afternoon.
“I think that it’s unfortunate, you know, what gets interpreted as an attack, right?” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters. “When we approve $5 billion to agencies that are killing kids and I represent a district that is 50 percent immigrants, my families and communities feel attacked and I have a responsibility to stand up for them, and I think that it would be hypocritical for me to remain silent on injustices just because those injustices may come from our side of the aisle.”