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Pelosi’s Feud Won’t Stop the Squad

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There’s nothing like the intervention of a true racist to provide a sense of proportion. The public dispute between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the group of four young, electric, progressive female legislators of color known as the “squad”—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)—was headed off the rails when Donald Trump butted in. Sensing that he had lost the spotlight, Trump posed as Pelosi’s defender with the vile racist taunt that the four should “go back” to their “countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.” (Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York, Tlaib in Detroit, Pressley in Cincinnati. Omar, who came to the US from Somalia as a child refugee, is an American citizen.)

Trump’s hate briefly sowed unity, as Pelosi defended the four legislators via tweet. But the tensions are not likely to go away, for this isn’t a “catfight,” as Kellyanne Conway put it, nor a misunderstanding caused by the generational divide between the Speaker and the freshmen. This is a fight about what the Democratic Party stands for, the majority coalition it seeks to build, and the way it does politics.

Though she’s lately received significant criticism from the left, Pelosi is the most effective and  progressive Speaker of the House in our time. The most powerful female elected leader in US history has been a forceful advocate for women’s rights and for increasing the influence of women in the House. That is what makes her repeated public denigration of the “squad” so jarring.

Notorious New York Times op-ed arsonist Maureen Dowd lit the latest flareup, quoting Pelosi as saying: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many [congressional] votes they got.” Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter: “That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment. And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country.”

The cause for this exchange was a debate over emergency funding to lessen the horrors at the southern border. In June, the four progressive freshmen voted against the original spending bill Pelosi ushered through the House, fearing what CBP and the Trump administration might do with the money. While Pelosi may have been miffed, their resistance had no legislative effect, as she pointed out in the Dowd interview. But she was embarrassed when the bill reached the Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell passed a version stripped of the Democrats’ existing spending restrictions. With conservative Democrats forcing a choice of no bill or the Senate bill, Pelosi chose the latter, triggering opposition from 95 Democrats with progressive leaders publicly scouring the conservative members.

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