Imagine if the Allies had managed to establish only one beachhead during the Normandy invasion, instead of five. Now imagine Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower ordering the deliberate bombing and strafing of a segment of his own soldiers on that lone beachhead.
This is basically what is happening between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and the progressive members of the Democratic caucus. In the middle of a fight against entrenched, mechanized fascism, Speaker Pelosi has chosen to train fire on her own people as they cling to the one lonely governmental beachhead Democrats have managed to seize.
Pelosi appears to believe the voters elected a Democratic majority to the House in order to be moderate and safe. She is entirely protective of the conservative Democrats within the caucus who tried to thwart her speakership before it even began, and who vote with the Republicans much of the time.
A vast slew of other people believe voters gave Democrats the House majority in order to thwart the wrecking-ball intentions of the disaster factory that is the Trump White House. Among those who believe this are Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts).
Collectively known as “The Squad” by admirers and detractors alike, these four newly elected women of color came to work, not to appease. They pull no punches, are outspoken and effective, and have mastered the art of social media communication in ways that Pelosi and her Reagan-era leadership team find confusing and threatening. In Pelosi’s House, all that is new is bad until it sits on the backbench for 30 years and learns how things are.
Pelosi often speaks of President Trump’s lies and impeachable offenses, but steadfastly refuses to consider impeachment as a viable tool despite a large vat of obstruction evidence at her feet, because of those conservative members. When a chance came to fight for legislation to address the execrable concentration camps at the border, Pelosi instead supported the far crueler Senate Republican version of the bill, again in deference to those conservative House Democrats.
The stress fracture between Pelosi and The Squad audibly popped in the aftermath of the vote to do nothing of actual substance for the kids in the camps. Representative Ocasio-Cortez and her allies were vocally opposed to the Senate Republican version of the bill, and Pelosi responded to the pushback by slagging The Squad while sharing a box of high-end chocolates with gadfly New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
“Pelosi feels that the four made themselves irrelevant to the process by voting against ‘our bill,’ as she put it, which she felt was the strongest one she could get,” wrote Dowd. “‘All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,’ she said. ‘But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.’”
Yeah, those kids with their rock & roll and their Twitter world and their public whatever. The only thing needed to make this picture perfect would be Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad hitting a baseball into Pelosi’s yard so Pelosi could confiscate it while shaking her fist at them. There are lots of baseballs in the world, Nancy, and your yard is getting smaller by the day.
Ocasio-Cortez used the public whatever of the Twitter world to clap back at the House speaker in her usual incisive style:
That public “whatever” is called public sentiment.
And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country. https://t.co/u6JtgwwRsk
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 7, 2019
“A glass of water could’ve [beat a 20-yr incumbt]”
“The Green Dream or whatever”
“Their public whatever”
Those aren’t quotes from me; they‘re from the Speaker. Having respect for ourselves doesn’t mean we lack respect for her.
It means we won’t let everyday people be dismissed. https://t.co/VMRkcd8xlL
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 8, 2019
Pelosi, during this time, used a closed-door meeting as an opportunity to basically warn members not to cross her. She did not single out The Squad by name, but even the ornamental brass spittoon in the corner of the room knew who she was talking about. Pressed to defend her comments on Wednesday, Pelosi replied, “I have no regrets about anything. Regrets is not what I do.”
“I don’t regret anything,” said Trump about a run of caustic tweets in 2017, “because there is nothing you can do about it.” When the Democratic speaker of the House starts cribbing lines from that guy, the time for some serious soul-searching has arrived.
“It’s singling out four individuals,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN, “and knowing the media environment that we’re operating in, knowing the amount of death threats that we get, knowing the amount of concentration of attention, I think it’s just worth asking why.”
The waters of the Democratic caucus became even frothier on Thursday when Ocasio-Cortez’s top staffer went after Pelosi and the “moderates” on Twitter. “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,” reported Politico.
Even though Chakrabarti quickly deleted the tweet comparing the “moderates” to segregationists, and despite the searing truths found in the tweets he let stand, it is difficult not to call this a tactical blunder. Pelosi saw an opening and pounced. “They took offense,” Pelosi said, “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.”
And just like that, the Blue Dogs are the victims. The most stinging pushback came from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), who took issue with Ocasio-Cortez’s characterization of Pelosi as attacking four women of color. “What a weak argument,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri). “Because you can’t get your way, and because you are you getting pushed back, you resort to using the race card. Unbelievable.”
Tensions between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and some in the CBC increased further on Friday afternoon. “She’s only a woman of color when it’s convenient,” a top Democratic aide anonymously told The Hill. That same anonymous staffer went on to say, “All these CBC members feel like they are under siege.” It is worth noting that Representative Clay is facing a primary challenge backed by Justice Democrats, a group that is closely allied with Ocasio-Cortez. Wheels within wheels within wheels is the nature of politics, and so it goes.
I think it is fair to say Chakrabarti could have made good use of the ReThink app before hitting “send” on that segregationist tweet. That being said, despite his position as Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Chakrabarti is a newcomer to the knife-fighting reality of big-time politics just like his boss. In this instance, his passion became a liability, but it is hard to deny the fact that his tweets came after prolonged provocation by Speaker Pelosi and the conservative Democrats she is defending.
Those “moderates” have been calling for Chakrabarti’s head since his tweets hit the wires. Would Ocasio-Cortez be better served by a top aide with more D.C. experience? Maybe, if she wants her office to become the problem she is trying to solve. Entrenched “experience” in the Democratic House has become cholesterol in the arteries of progress, and all the rookie mistakes in the world cannot obscure the fact that Pelosi and her crew are still fighting demons from 40 years ago.
“Democratic leaders like Pelosi, Joe Biden, Steny Hoyer and Chuck Schumer were shaped by their traumatic political coming-of-age during the breakup of the New Deal coalition and the rise of Ronald Reagan,” writes Ryan Grim for The Washington Post, “and the backlash that swept Democrats so thoroughly from power nearly 40 years ago. They’ve spent the rest of their lives flinching at the sight of voters. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world have witnessed the opposite: The way they see it, Democratic attempts to moderate and compromise have led to nothing but ruin.”
While Pelosi and her congressional allies finished the week attempting to give Rep. Ocasio-Cortez the under-the-bus treatment, she and her progressive allies spent Friday sharing deeply emotional testimony before the House Oversight Committee regarding what they saw at the border concentration camps. It was a stirring counterpoint to the pettiness they had been served by their fellow caucus members, and left all who watched with a question: Who is grandstanding in all this, and who is doing the real work of Congress?
Speaker Pelosi came into her position in 2018 on a buffeting wind of high hopes and great expectations. She won over wary progressives for a time by facing down Trump in the shutdown clash over border wall funding, and spawned a million Trump-trashing memes by ironically clapping at him during the State of the Union.
Yet the border wall fight grinds on, and a meme is just a meme. By stomping on the energetic progressive wing of her caucus while protecting the conservative Democrats who tried to block her speakership while consistently voting with Republicans, Pelosi has made it clear where her loyalties lie.
She insists she is defending the majority, which is all well and good if she intends to actually accomplish something with that majority. This does not appear to be in the cards. Instead, Pelosi seems to be stating her intent to cling to a tepid status quo in order to maintain power for power’s sake.
Pelosi believes she is saving the House from a Republican takeover, but voters who see Democrats at a standstill when action is required — or worse, see Democrats acting and voting like Republicans — have historically gone and voted Republican in the next election, because why not have the real thing when all you’ve got is a cowardly imitation.
Pelosi would do well to note that the “moderates” she defends did not bring about the Democrats’ 2018 midterm victory alone. The passion of the progressive base, vividly represented by The Squad, were a large part of that success. In point of fact, former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), or perhaps even Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California), would probably be Speaker had it not been for the energy progressives brought to the polls.
If Pelosi doesn’t remember that soon, she will wind up handing her gavel over to some right-wing ghoul again, and she will have herself to blame.
This article has been updated.