Nancy Pelosi doesn’t make her feelings about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez much of a secret.
In an interview with The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, Pelosi was dismissive of the influence of the New York congresswoman – and her liberal allies in the freshman class – particularly regarding their opposition to a House-backed border funding bill.
“All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told Dowd. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
That comment echoes what Pelosi said of AOC (and her closest allies, including Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts) in an April interview with USA Today. “While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what’s important is that we have large numbers of votes on the floor of the House,” Pelosi said.
Less than a week later, Pelosi was at it again. Asked by CBS’ Lesley Stahl about AOC and her cadre, the speaker replied drolly: “That’s like five people.”
Then there’s the fact that AOC didn’t get the seat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee that she wanted (and that the man she beat in the primary in 2018 – Rep. Joe Crowley – had held). Nor did AOC accept Pelosi’s appointment to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis created by the speaker in the early days of this Congress.
And then there was this quote from Pelosi about the “Green New Deal” – a series of massive structural overhauls touted by AOC as “the necessary legislative answer to the changing climate:”
“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. ‘The Green Dream,’ or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”
The Green Dream! Sounds like a comic book superhero!
What’s not up for debate – given all of that evidence – is that Pelosi is, how to say it, skeptical of AOC and her allies. The bigger question is why?
Since I’m not Pelosi and she hasn’t talked openly about her views of AOC, the short answer to that question is we don’t totally know. But it’s not terribly complicated to make an educated guess.
Pelosi has been in elected office since 1987 when she won a special election in a San Francisco area district. In that time, she has been a liberal’s liberal – a positioning that led to her ascension into the leadership of the Democratic Party and has also made her a major target of Republicans who have spent much of the past decade villainizing her in campaign ads.
The point is that from Pelosi’s perspective, she’s been fighting the liberal fight – and winning – for nearly four decades now.
Take climate change. In an interview with Politico earlier this year, Pelosi referred to it as her “flagship issue.” In forming the select committee aimed at considering the best possible legislative solution to the crisis, Pelosi said this: “I want everybody to be in on the act because this is deadly serious.”
You can imagine then that the idea of AOC, a now 29-year-old, very junior member of the Democratic majority, trying to pressure the party leadership into adopting her pet proposal rather than going through a deliberative process involving lots of different viewpoints within the party would irk Pelosi.
And that’s part of the broader issue here: Pelosi bristles at the idea that she and AOC are on some sort of equal plane because the New York congresswoman has almost 5 million Twitter followers. That’s all well and good to Pelosi, but is nothing when compared to serving as the Speaker of the House (and the first woman to hold that role to boot)!
Pelosi’s message – again and again – to AOC amounts to this: Social media power isn’t political power. Don’t get it twisted.
Ocasio-Cortez has grown more and more bold in response to Pelosi’s jabs as the year has gone on. In response to the Dowd column, AOC tweeted:
“I don’t believe it was a good idea for Dems to blindly trust the Trump admin when so many kids have died in their custody. It’s a huge mistake. This admin also refuses to hand over docs to Congress on the whereabouts of families. People’s lives are getting bargained, & for what?”
Then, this on Monday:
“‘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.”
Neither Pelosi or Ocasio-Cortez seems likely to back down. Which means this story is only going to get more interesting – and potentially problematic for Democrats trying to keep control of the House and win back the White House next November.