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Behind the Scenes of the House Democrats’ Twitter War

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Donald Trump’s racist attacks on four left-leaning, first-term congresswoman over the last week had one salutary side-effect: They seemed to bring feuding House Democratic Caucus members together behind their besieged sisters and in renewed opposition to the repellent president.

But even though Trump’s attacks on the young Democratic leaders—telling them to “go back” to where they came from, though three of the four brown-skinned women were born here, and the fourth became a citizen as a child—appeared to end open warfare among Democrats, the ideological rifts revealed by the clash remain, as does confusion about how a truce was reached. The fragile peace seems to have many fathers and mothers—but the individuals who negotiated the calming of tensions say some folks are taking bows they haven’t earned. I reached out to Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal, who’s credited with doing some of the heavy lifting to unite the House Democratic Caucus. She wanted to set the record straight about what set off the infighting—and what put a stop to it, at least for now.

Although the brightest flashpoints came on Twitter, the original clash, between Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and moderate Democratic leaders, came into the open after the four voted against a supplemental border funding bill earlier this month. It was a bill Jayapal and her Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan worked hard to improve, adding language to require contractors to provide detainees with basic standards of care (food, water, hygiene supplies and medical care), to strip contracts from vendors that didn’t meet those standards, and to keep the government from detaining children for more than 90 days. The four first-term women, all members of the Progressive Caucus, had campaigned promising not to give added money to ICE, so they voted against it. The bill still passed easily, with only their four “nay” votes. 

The Senate then rejected it and passed its own bill, with the unexpected support of 33 of 45 Senate Democrats, expanding funding for ICE and border security and leaving out the protective language of the House bill. When it came back to the House, a bloc of 23 conservative Democrats denied Rules Committee chairman Jim McGovern a maneuver that would have added back some of the protections before it went to the floor for a final vote. “It’s really unheard of for Democrats to do that,” Jayapal said, still seething. So the House adopted the Senate bill, but the majority of yeses came from Republicans; only 129 Democrats backed the final bill. Jaypal and Pocan voted with the four women of the so-called “squad” against the Senate bill.

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