Trump shows support for Pelosi as rift with Ocasio-Cortez deepens

Spat started when Pelosi seemed to criticise four new congresswomen in an interview

Nancy Pelosi received praise from unexpected quarters on Friday. Speaking to journalists as he left for Wisconsin, Donald Trump said he felt Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29- year-old New York congresswoman, had been "very disrespectful" to the House speaker.

“Cortez should treat Nancy Pelosi with respect. She should not be doing what she’s doing,” he said. “She is not a racist.”

The US president was weighing-in on a spat that has become one of the most interesting sideshows in Washington.

Things kicked off last week when Nancy Pelosi appeared to disparage four of the newly- elected congresswomen in an interview with the New York Times' Maureen 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.”

Her irritation stemmed from the decision by the four – Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – to vote against a border funding Bill late last month because they believed there were insufficient protections for migrants.

Furious response Ms Pelosi’s comments about the “Squad”, as they are known, elicited a furious response from Ms Ocasio-Cortez. In her own interview with the Washington Post, she said: “When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood. But the persistent singling out . . . it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful . . . the explicit singling out of newly- elected women of colour.”

This in turn prompted many other Democrats to hit out at their Democratic colleague. Lacy Clay, a Democrat from Missouri, accused her of using the race card. "Unbelievable," she said.

Tensions were exacerbated when Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff issued a series of tweets, one of which compared moderate Democrats to segregationist southern Democrats of the 1940s.

"I personally experienced Dixiecrats' bigoted policies growing up," said Terri Sewell, an African-American congresswoman who represents Birmingham, Alabama. "So, to even insinuate that I, or any other member of the New Dems, would promote policies that are racist and hateful or ones that would negatively impact communities of color is deeply offensive and couldn't be further from the truth."

Ms Pelosi tackled the issue head-on in a private meeting of Democrats last Wednesday. She told party members to refrain from targeting each other on Twitter, and criticised attacks on moderate Democrats, many of whom are facing tough re-election battles.

The spilling out into the open of schisms between factions of the Democratic party is an uncomfortable development for Pelosi. The 79-year- old has so far managed to keep her team in line since her party took back control of the House of Representatives in November’s mid-term elections.

Division Bridging the divides between the more moderate and liberal wings of the party has always been tricky for Democrats, a challenge that has become more acute since a new crop of talented left-leaning younger candidates won election in the mid-terms. Differences also emerged over

whether to move forward with impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s bold “Green New Deal” proposal, a multibillion dollar infrastructure plan designed to curb climate change divided the party. While several more experienced members stood alongside Ms Ocasio-Ortez as she unveiled her signature policy, it was dismissed by Ms Pelosi, in a put-down that many read as patronising. “We welcome all the enthusiasm that people want to put on the table, and the Green New Deal is one of them, but we have to operate in a way that’s evidence- based.”

All of this is of course music to the ears of Republicans, eager to exploit the internal fighting consuming the Democratic party. Trump again weighed-in on the matter in a racially-charged set of tweets on Sunday, in which he urged the congresswomen to “go back” to the countries from which they came.

Ironically, his latest intervention may help to focus Democrats on unifying around a single message, rather than taking cheap shots at each other.

After all, public displays of infighting is not what the party needs ahead of next year’s elections.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent