House speaker denies ‘tensions’ with lawmaker

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are scheduled to meet face-to-face Friday after weeks of public friction between the two high-profile Democrats.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Pelosi said Thursday when asked about the upcoming meeting. 

“It’s nothing too climactic,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “just trying to make sure we have an open line of communication and get on the same page.”

The collegial tone ahead of the meeting appears to be the latest iteration of the sometimes-contentious relationship between the speaker from California and the freshman lawmaker from New York, who has come to represent the progressive wing of the party. The two have have quibbled over both policies and tactics during their six months together in the House but recently appeared to unify after President Donald Trump made racist attacks against four minority members of Congress.

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The pair condemned Trump’s tweets in which he told the four House Democrats, which included Ocasio-Cortez, to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” 

Pelosi said the tweets were “disgraceful and disgusting” and introduced a resolution to condemn the comments as racist. 

But before Trump’s attacks, signs of tensions between the two had been visible from the time of Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional orientation, when she joined a climate protest outside Pelosi’s office. And they continued as Ocasio-Cortez disagreed with the speaker’s cautious approach to pursuing impeachment proceedings against Trump, while Pelosi offered lukewarm support for Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.

Tensions appeared to boil over after Ocasio-Cortez and three other first-year congresswomen from the party’s progressive wing were the only Democrats to vote against a version of a border funding bill that Pelosi promoted. 

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During an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Pelosi criticized Ocasio-Cortez, along with Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan for voting against the bill. 

“They didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got,” Pelosi said. 

That article prompted Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff to criticize Pelosi and centrist Democrats on social media. Pelosi then called out Ocasio-Cortez and the other three freshman congresswoman in a caucus meeting. 

“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it,” Pelosi said, according to a source in the room. “But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.”

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Ocasio-Cortez responded by saying it was “outright disrespectful” for Pelosi to repeatedly single out newly elected women of color, though she later tried to downplay any ill-will between herself and the speaker. 

On Thursday, Pelosi minimized reports of strain in her relationship with Ocasio-Cortez, saying, “We’re good, we’re good.”

“I don’t think there are tensions,” she said.

When asked about the meeting Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez said, “I don’t think I have a strong message for her.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif, views the meeting between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez as a further sign of de-escalation.

“The Speaker is our coach and leader, and (Ocasio-Cortez) is a star recruit freshman who’s capable of big plays,” he said, “so they should see that they both have a particular role to play on the team and ultimately the goal is for the team to win.” 

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Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, said Trump’s comments “actually brought Democrats together.”

“They felt under siege in a completely vile way and that created a commonality,” he said. “It created an opening for a different kind of dialogue between the speaker and AOC.”    

Orenstein said the meeting is significant because “the speaker doesn’t meet individually with a lot of members on a regular basis because she has so many other things going on.”

Pelosi put less significance on the meeting. 

“I have a steady stream of members coming through my office and I’ll look forward to her visit as well,” she said. 

Contributing: Christal Hayes

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