An increasingly public, racially-charged rift in the Democratic party is widening after attacks are lobbed between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's camp and the Democratic establishment

J. Scott Applewhite/AP ImagesRep. Ilhan Omar and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
  • A racially-charged rift between left-wing Democrats and the Party establishment has emerged in recent days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and prominent progressives exchanged barbs.
  • The tension escalated on Friday after the House Democrats Twitter account attacked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff for criticising Rep. Sharice Davids over her vote on a border aid package.
  • “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of colour?” the official Democratic account wrote on Friday night.
  • Many progressives expressed outrage over the post, which was retweeted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff.
  • “It’s deeply concerning that House leadership seems to be focused on attacking progressive Democrats who want the party to fight more aggressively against Trump’s cruelty at the border,” Waleed Shahid, Justice Democrats’ communications director, told INSIDER.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A racially-charged rift between left-wing Democrats and the Party establishment has grown in recent days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and prominent progressives exchanged barbs.

The tension between progressive Democrats and the party establishment further escalated after the House Democrats Twitter account targeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, for criticising Rep. Sharice Davids over her vote on a border aid package.

“Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of colour?” the tweet said. “Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice. She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue. Keep????????Her????????Name????????Out????????Of????????Your????????Mouth.”

Attached to the tweet was a screenshot of a two-week-old message from Chakrabarti taking issue with Davids’ vote for the $US4.6 billion aid bill. Almost 100 House Democrats opposed the legislation, which they argued didn’t include sufficient health and safety protections for migrants.


Read more:
The Democratic Party is cracking down on candidates who hope to be the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and progressives are fighting back

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, retweeted the House Democrats’ message.

“I RTed this in my personal capacity as a gay man who was bullied and beaten in high school,” he told a Washington Post reporter on Saturday.

https://twitter.com/HouseDemocrats/status/1149856308801286148?ref_src=twsrc^tfw

And Pelosi herself has repeatedly lobbed increasingly pointed attacks on the most progressive members of her caucus.

“All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got,” Pelosi told The New York Times recently, referring to four freshmen lawmakers.

Ocasio-Cortez responded by accusing Pelosi of “singling out” four women of colour – a move she called “outright disrespectful.” The New York lawmaker later walked back her comments, saying Pelosi was “absolutely not” a racist.

Late last week, a senior Democratic aide called Justice Democrats – the group that backed Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 primary – “trust fund kids who are funding this with their parents’ money.”

And members of the Congressional Black Caucus took aim at Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats, which is supporting other primary challenges, including against CBC members, in blue districts in 2020.

Rep. Greg Meeks of Queens, a longtime member of the CBC, told the New York Daily News, “if someone picks a fight with somebody else, you fight back. That’s what my parents told me.”

Meeks told The Hill, “It just seems strange that the social Democrats seem to be targeting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, individuals who have stood and fought to make sure that African Americans are included and part of this process.”

Progressives were quick to express their outrage over the attacks. Leaders of Justice Democrats insisted that the group isn’t led by wealthy white people – in fact, it’s led by people of colour from working class backgrounds.

“It’s deeply concerning that House leadership seems to be focused on attacking progressive Democrats who want the party to fight more aggressively against Trump’s cruelty at the border,” Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, told INSIDER. “Instead senior leaders and their aides seem to be more focused on making anonymous incendiary and false accusations about our organisation and our candidates and sending distasteful images about AOC to the press than serving the American people.”

Lindsey Boylan, a former adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who’s running a primary challenge against New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, told INSIDER that the House Democrats have become “a prop to mete out vendettas against individuals within our party.”

More establishment Democrats say Chakrabarti is a target for being a particularly outspoken, public-facing Hill staffer.

Ian Russell, a Democratic strategist and former deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told INSIDER that Chakrabarti “has definitely looked for ways to raise his profile that aren’t traditional for a [chief of staff]” and “that grates on members and other staffers.”

Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Deb Haaland spoke at Netroots Nation on Saturday.Eliza Relman/INSIDERReps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Deb Haaland spoke at Netroots Nation on Saturday.

‘We are in the business of grabbing power’

At a major gathering of progressive activists in Philadelphia on Saturday, Rep. Ilhan Omar said that she and other progressive lawmakers are looking to “grab” power from congressional leadership. Omar spoke on a panel with three other freshmen women of colour: Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Deb Haaland, and Rashida Tlaib.

“There’s a constant struggle with people who have power about sharing that power,” she told an enthusiastic audience at Netroots Nation. “And we are not really in the business of asking to share that power – we are in the business of grabbing that power to return it to the people.”

When the conversation turned to initiating an impeachment investigation into the president – something Pelosi has firmly opposed – Tlaib insisted that Democrats would eventually “impeach that MFer.”

“Don’t worry,” she added to laughs and applause.


Read more:
Progressives blame Nancy Pelosi for ‘horrendous’ migrant aid bill and holding them back on impeachment

But other members of the so-called “squad” weren’t looking to inflame tensions on Saturday. Pressley said during the panel that she isn’t interested in “palace intrigue” and is instead focused on poverty, health disparities, and gun violence in her district.

Later on during the event, Pressley argued that Washington needs more diverse voices that are willing to transform politics.

“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice,” she said to big applause. “We don’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”

After a reporter interpreted her comments as a response to the Congressional Black Caucus’ criticism, Pressley insisted that she didn’t intend to criticise her colleagues. (The CBC endorsed former Rep. Mike Capuano over Pressley during their 2018 primary).

“Just stop it. I said no such thing & spent much of my air time (as did the other Mbrs of Congress) lauding @RepBarbaraLee & others,” she wrote, replying to a Twitter user who said she “went #uncletom on the #CBC.” “I was inferring nothing. I was celebrating the power & value of *every* person’s voice based on their lived experiences.”

Haaland told reporters after the event that she’d like her colleagues to “just stop tweeting for a while,” pointing to the detention of migrants at the border and other big issues of the day as more pressing concerns.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.