John Fund: Pelosi vs. Ocasio-Cortez – Rock star rep has big decision to make about living in Speaker's House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and four progressive House Democrats led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are having a bitter feud.  It teaches us a lot about growing splits within the Democratic Party and how Pelosi is using her power to shut down dissent within her party.

It started when the "squad," consisting of Ocasio-Cortez, and fellow freshman Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., used Twitter to bitterly attack Pelosi’s role last month in passing a $4.6 billion bill that included more money for border security. Pelosi’s sin was not only that she sent President Trump a bill he could sign, but that she supposedly enabled Border Patrol "child abusers" and opponents of open borders.

Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, also sent out several tweets claiming that moderate Democrats were oppressing minorities.

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“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 a now-deleted tweet.

In a New York Times interview, Pelosi put the four rebels in their place: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told the Times. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her three allies – Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – were furious that Pelosi exposed their views as largely irrelevant to real lawmaking. The four all seek to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), want to stop making illegal border crossings a crime and demand reparations for slavery.

Ocasio-Cortez spoke for the group as a whole with her response to Pelosi. At first, she was defensive:

“I find it strange when members act as though social media isn’t important, " she tweeted.

Then came the gut punch. AOC told The Washington Post that Pelosi’s comments were “outright disrespectful,” essentially accusing her of racism by an “explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”

Pelosi allies were furious.

“What a weak argument," said Rep. Lacy Clay, an African-American from Missouri, who is facing a primary challenge supported by backers of Ocasio-Cortez. "Because you can’t get your way, and because you are you getting pushed back, you resort to using the race card. Unbelievable.”

Pelosi followed up with her own statement during Wednesday’s closed-door meeting with Democrats.

“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.” As for attacking moderate Democrats: “Think twice. Actually, don’t think twice. Think once.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow progressives may not like chafing under Nancy Pelosi’s iron rule in the House, but they should realize they now have a choice to make. Do they keep their social media hordes energized and their progressive street cred enhanced by further challenging Pelosi? Or will they simmer down?

It’s not clear how the four progressive members or their staffers who were singled out by Pelosi will respond to her verbal spanking. But one lesson they should draw from this is that the House is not a democracy. The speaker isn’t a dictator but with rare exceptions, everything that happens in the House is directed by her and her lieutenants.

The four rebel Democrats are all freshmen, having served only six months in Congress. So they might not have fully absorbed that lesson. They should talk to Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who just left the Republican Party’s House caucus after eight years out of frustration. 

Meanwhile, Amash believes that Congress is fundamentally dysfunctional.

Amash is unabashed about how the chamber meant to be closest to the people really works. He told Andrew Napolitano of Fox News this month:

“There’s almost no debate here in Congress. It’s almost all directed by leadership…What happens here, is leadership tells you exactly what to think. In fact, every day when we vote on the House floor, leaders send out messages to their respective parties telling them how to vote on various amendments and various bills. And most of the members of Congress don’t read any of it.”

Nancy Pelosi, who is the daughter of a Democratic machine mayor of Baltimore, now runs a similar machine in the House and she’s now shown she will sit on dissident members who stand in the way of deals she wants to cut.

Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues can squawk all they want about older and more moderate Democrats standing against progressive change. But in Pelosi’s mind, she is saving the party from them.

Consider that Ocasio-Cortez actually believes that any detention of illegal immigrants is immoral. She claims “we should not be using detention for people who have harmed no one.”

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To Pelosi, such rhetoric is a sure-fire way to alienate the swing voters that gave Democrats back their majority in 2018 and put in jeopardy the party’s chances to defeat President Trump. “Ocasio-Cortez has been destructive to her party’s chances in 2020,” concludes columnist Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. “She is a one woman Committee to Re-Elect the President.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow progressives may not like chafing under Nancy Pelosi’s iron rule in the House, but they should realize they now have a choice to make. Do they keep their social media hordes energized and their progressive street cred enhanced by further challenging Pelosi? Or will they simmer down and realize that biding one’s time until Trump is out of office is likely to pay them bigger long-term dividends?

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