Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to address claims by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that she’s singling out women of color for criticism, saying she will not discuss the simmering feud further in public.
“I said what I’m going to say in the caucus. That’s where this is appropriate,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference Thursday, shutting down additional follow-up attempts by a reporter.
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Pelosi suggested that Ocasio-Cortez and the other freshman progressive women in her so-called “squad” may be upset that the speaker chided members — and their staff — in a private caucus meeting Wednesday.
“They took offense because I addressed, at the request of my members, an offensive tweet that came out of one of the member’s offices that referenced our Blue Dogs and our New Dems essentially as segregationists,” Pelosi said, referencing a now-deleted tweet by Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff.
“How they’re interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them,” Pelosi added. “But I’m not going to be discussing it any further.”
Pelosi’s comments follow a days-long public spat with Ocasio-Cortez, which started when the speaker questioned how much influence Ocasio-Cortez and her allies, Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, actually have. Ocasio-Cortez fired back, first in a series of tweets and then in an interview with the Washington Post accusing Pelosi of being “outright disrespectful” for the “explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
Top Democrats, including Pelosi, have been eager to refocus attention this week on the caucus’ legislative agenda and leave behind the ugly interpersonal disputes that have emerged over the last two weeks.
But Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal said she plans to raise her concerns with Pelosi about the issue in an upcoming meeting about broader issues — specifically how singling out freshman women of color like Ocasio-Cortez works to “diminish progressive power” in the caucus.
“I don’t think the speaker is used to having a group of members who has bigger Twitter followings than her. I don’t think most of us are,” Jayapal said in an interview Thursday.
“God, it totally resonates with me, absolutely,” Jayapal said when asked if she agreed with Ocasio-Cortez’s comments about being singled out as a woman of color. “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.”
Pelosi gave a forceful speech during Wednesday’s closed-door meeting, urging Democrats not to target each other publicly on Twitter – remarks that were seen pointed at progressives specifically.
Pelosi also told members to urge their aides to “think twice” before tweeting, a line that was a direct reference to Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, according to multiple Democratic sources.
Her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, has come under fire for a flurry of tweets criticizing Pelosi, endorsing primary challengers to Democratic incumbents and comparing moderate Democrats to pro-segregationist lawmakers from decades ago.
“Instead of ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal,’ let’s call the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus the ‘New Southern Democrats.’ They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did the 40s,” Chakrabarti wrote in the tweet.
Rep. Terri Sewell, a vice chair of the New Dems, has reached out to Ocasio-Cortez several times to discuss Chakrabarti’s controversial tweets but has not heard back, according to an account relayed by Rep. Derek Kilmer during a meeting in Pelosi’s office on Wednesday.
Kilmer, who is chairman of the New Dems, recounted the story during Pelosi’s weekly meeting with leaders of the various Democratic interest groups within the caucus, according to two sources with knowledge of the exchange.
Sewell, who is African-American, represents Birmingham, Ala., a city with a lengthy and at times horrific civil rights legacy. On Thursday, she released a statement strongly criticizing the comparison of New Dems to pro-segregationists.
In an interview, she said, “I’m not going to talk about my own private talks with members. But it’s enough to say that I’ve issued my statement about the tweet that her chief of staff did. I was highly offended by that — I represent the Deep South.”
Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus also reacted with fury to Chakrabarti’s tweet.
“I agree with the Speaker: four people, four votes,” Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) told reporters Thursday, referring to the squad, adding that he believed it was a “weak argument” and “unbelievable” for Ocasio-Cortez to use the “race card” just because she couldn’t get her way.
“It shows you how ignorant he is to American history,” Clay said of Chakrabarti. “How dare him.“