House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered an impassioned pitch for unity Wednesday, as her Democratic caucus faces legislative and spending hurdles that could once again lay bare the deep divisions within her ranks.
Just weeks after a contentious fight over an emergency border bill spilled into public view with progressive and moderate members of the caucus openly attacking one another, Pelosi encouraged her colleagues Wednesday to turn their ire on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instead, arguing that the caucus has to realize that legislating can mean members don’t always get what they want.
“Some of you are here to make a beautiful pâté but we’re making sausage most of the time,” Pelosi said, according to a senior Democratic aide. “Mitch McConnell is the person who stood in the way of our doing more, not anybody in our caucus.”
Pelosi sought to defend moderate members of her caucus who are on the front lines of re-elections in places where Trump won or where Democrats have flipped long-held GOP seats. According to Democrats in the meeting, she also urged members against tweets admonishing fellow Democratic members of Congress.
“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it,” Pelosi said. “But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.”
Amid the infighting over the border, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin tweeted a comparison of some of the moderate members to “child abusers,” while the chief of staff for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York came under fire for comparing moderates to segregationists (he has since deleted the tweet).
Pocan was later confronted on the floor by moderate freshman Democrat Max Rose of New York, who swore at the liberal from Wisconsin and demanded he delete the tweet, according to multiple people who witnessed the episode.
Rose told Pocan that his mother now believes he’s a child abuser. To which, Pocan responded: “I’m happy to call your mom and say you’re not a child abuser,” the sources said.
Pelosi’s plea for unity Wednesday came as tensions have festered once again after the speaker personally called out four liberal members of her caucus in The New York Times who had voted against the House border supplemental package before the July Fourth recess.
“All of 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.”
Those comments spurred backlash from liberal groups and the members themselves who personally wrote on Twitter berating the speaker for her comments.
“That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the co-chair of the progressive caucus, said Wednesday she feels Pelosi is usually incredibly respectful but that she “didn’t appreciate that comment” about her fellow progressive colleagues.
“To dismiss any member’s force – and particularly these four members, who do have a tremendous following in the progressive base – is not the best thing,” Jayapal added.
Pelosi expressed no remorse for her comments to The New York Times on Wednesday. “No, I do not,” she told reporters when asked if she had any regrets, arguing she simply stated the four members voted against the bill.
Still, Pelosi’s timing for her call for unity Wednesday struck some members as ill-advised.
One Democrat in the room argued Pelosi’s comments Wednesday morning had come off a bit “heavy-handed.”
“I think she’s lashing out too much at people who disagree with her and she’s starting to get defensive,” the member said. “I feel that some people perceived it as ‘you are starting to get heavy-handed.’”
The caucus meeting Wednesday also comes ahead of calls from progressives for Pelosi to make changes to a $733 billion defense bill. Fresh off their defeat on the border supplemental, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are asking the speaker to make changes including limiting the president’s war powers and cutting spending to the Department of Defense. It also comes just months before Democrats will have to find a way forward with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, pass a comprehensive bill to keep the government funded and raise the spending caps or face automatic cuts across the board.
With a heavy load on their plate, Pelosi’s remarks reflect a serious push by Democratic leaders to repair a sense of unity – or at the very least strike a positive tone on some of the lingering tensions from the border fight.
“It’s all puppies and rainbows,” quipped Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the Democratic caucus.