The Dems’ Infighting Reflects a New Kind of Hubris

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Shutterstock

Jul 17, 2019    4 min read

Donald Trump’s flagrant racism served to distract from the ongoing discord among the Democrats

It began on Tuesday and it began months ago—the battle, largely invented by headline-hungry reporters, between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and freshman firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In that closed meeting last week, Pelosi finally aimed her criticism at her left flank, which has been trying unsuccessfully to make progress in a Congress that moves at the speed of all broken things.

In the meeting, Pelosi told her members not to tweet about each other, saying that internal struggles should be aired privately. Technically, the Speaker’s admonishment was aimed at all Democrats. In reality, it was a guideline for AOC and her group of constantly-online colleagues. At one point during the meeting, Pelosi even joked that if her young lawmakers need a bone to bite, they should go after her because it helps her fundraising. At another moment, she criticized, without naming, AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, who has been loudly attacking moderate Democrats on Twitter, once writing that “they certainly seem hell bent to do black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.” Though the tense meeting was held with only members of Congress and a few staffers, Pelosi might have let the press huddle in the corners. Just about every paper with a scribbler on Capitol Hill had the same series of quotes from the meeting, I got a few texts from a few aides hoping to spill some juice but their anecdotes were already online.

Ironically, the only quote that a source dropped Playboy from that meeting that I didn’t see in the horse-race stories was Pelosi remarking that the Democratic caucus meetings used to be private but today she feels that she’s speaking directly to the press. She was basically correct.

Among the most aggrieved figures in the powerful new circle is Waleed Shahid — the spokesman for Justice Democrats, the group that was largely behind the rise of AOC. For the past few weeks, Shahid has been tweeting barbs at Nancy Pelosi but, maybe this is all part of the plan. In February, Shahid told Politico, “there is going to be a war within the party. We are going to lean into it.” That breaks to the larger point behind this war: Progressives don’t seem to mind—and even encourage—an ugly power struggle because they’re so confident that their ideologies will win out. Already, the 2020 field is adopting many of those ideals, themes like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

Progressives don’t seem to mind—and even encourage—an ugly power struggle because they’re so confident that their ideologies will win out.

Party infighting and power struggles are part of life on Capitol Hill, but rarely are they aired so publicly. On Twitter, the House Democrats’ official account blasted Chakrabarti (citing a two-week-old tweet targeting Rep. Sharice Davids), writing “who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?” That remark, which was posted by a staffer, only served to set the internet aflame as progressives declared it proof that the old guard of the party—which apparently controls the Twitter account—was out hurling hatchets at progressives. With the party ship steering for the rocks, the Democrats were saved by Donald Trump who tweeted a string of racist remarks aimed at the young progressives, all of whom are women of color. The president’s tweets managed to unite the fractured party as Democrats banded together to attack themselves against a common enemy.

Reps. Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley held a press conference together on Capitol Hill to condemn the president and managed to wrestle the news cycle away from him. In the corner, Chakrabarti leaned against a wall, glancing occasionally at his phone. They took only two questions, one from ABC and other from the Fox News waterhead who somehow manages to yell a question at every press conference without ever really saying anything.

Later that night, after a brief spat on the floor with the Republicans, the Democrats passed a resolution condemning the president’s racist tweets at racist. It’s hard to say that this entire show produced much, the young progressives were hoping to draw attention to the immigration crisis on the border where we are keeping children in cages. Instead, we were offered yet another bit of proof that the president is a racist. Some outlets called the vote unprecedented, but we’ve been sailing in unprecedented waters since November of 2016.

In most power struggles, there is some sort of victor as there was in the dawn of this session of Congress when there were rumors that Nancy Pelosi may not be named Speaker. But there was no real victor in this fight, instead the Democrats managed to push their inner-party struggle along, to suffocate it from the news cycle as the president forced us to reckon yet again with his racism.

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