President Trump has taken sides in a growing internal dispute between Democrat party leaders, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and an outspoken “squad” of four female progressive congresswomen, led by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), and including Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Instead of apologizing for outrageous anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments made since being elected to Congress last November, the four have been pushing back against complaints by fellow Democrats and Jewish leaders.
In April, Trump condemned the Democrats during an address to the Republican Jewish Coalition for allowing the “scourge of anti-Semitism to take root” in their party, and for “advancing by far the most extreme, anti-Semitic agenda in history.” On Sunday, Trump amplified and generalized his criticism in a series of tweets that accused AOC and her squad of preaching anti-Americanism. He also recommended that they return to the countries from which they and their families originally came.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”
The president added: “These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Trump also condemned their fellow Democrats for “sticking up for people who speak so badly of our country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion. Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘racist.’ Their disgusting language and the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged. If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
TRUMP DEMANDS A DEMOCRAT APOLOGY TO THE US
On Monday morning, Trump continued tweeting, “When will the radical left congresswomen apologize to our country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said[?]. So many people are angry at them and their horrible and disgusting actions!
“If Democrats want to unite around the foul language and racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular and unrepresentative congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.”
Trump may have been responding to the latest anti-Israel quote by Congresswoman Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, who recently accused Israel once again of engaging in “continued dehumanization and racist policies.”
Later Monday morning, Trump tweeted excerpts from a Fox News interview in which Senator Lindsey Graham called “AOC and this crowd” a “bunch of Communists” who “hate Israel” and “hate our own country.” The South Carolina Republican added, “They’re calling the guards along our border, the border patrol agents, ‘concentration camp guards.’ They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”
But Graham also advised the president to “aim higher” by criticizing the socialist and anti-American ideas they are presenting, rather than attacking them personally. Graham predicted that if could make AOC and her squad become “the face of the future” for Democrats, “you will destroy the Democratic Party.”
DEMOCRATS REUNITE IN RESPONSE TO THEIR COMMON ENEMY
The Twitter outbursts by Trump temporarily reunited the Democrats by reminding them that they face a common political enemy in the White House, who is attempting to use their internal divisions to enhance his chances of re-election next year. Democrat Congresswoman Debbie Dingle told the Washington Post, “I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring everybody together. I think the president just did that for us. Nobody in our caucus is going to tolerate that kind of hatred.”
On Monday afternoon, the four members of the squad stood side by side in the Capitol to hold a news conference defending themselves against Trump’s attacks.
Congresswoman Omar said of the president, “He would love nothing more than to divide our country based on race, religion, gender, orientation or immigration status, because this is the only way he knows he can prevent the solidarity of us working together.”
Omar added, “When people say, ‘If you say a negative thing about the policies in this country, you hate this country,’ to me it sort of speaks to the hypocrisy. When this president ran and until today, he talked about everything that was wrong in this country and how he was going to make it great. And so for him to condemn us and to say we are un-American for wanting to work hard to make this country be the country we all deserve to live in, it’s complete hypocrisy.”
Congresswoman Pressley took advantage of the press conference to respond to a negative comment made earlier by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the squad ultimately represented only their own opinions: “Despite attempts to marginalize us and to silence us, please know that we are more than four people. We ran on a mandate to advocate for and represent those ignored, left out and left behind. Our squad is big.”
Earlier Monday, AOC had been quick to respond to respond to Trump in a tweet of her own. “Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ and the country we all swear to, is the United States. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder. . . [You are] angry because you can’t conceive of an America that includes us.” She added that by telling her and her friends to go back to the countries of their origins, the president was using the “hallmark language of white supremacists. Trump feels comfortable leading the GOP into outright racism, and that should concern all Americans.”
Congresswoman Omar also responded to Trump’s tweet, writing, “You are stoking white nationalism [because] you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda.” Omar added that as “members of Congress, the only country we swear an oath to is the United States.”
On Tuesday, House Democrats announced that they would immediately call for a vote on a resolution condemning Trump for his “racist comments” directed at AOC’s squad. In a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi told her members, “These are our sisters.” She expressed the hope that the resolution “will get Republican support. If they can’t support condemning the words of the president, well, that’s a message in and of itself.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy denied the Democrat contention that Trump’s tweets were racist. “I believe this is about ideology; this is about socialism versus freedom.”
Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney emphasized that the GOP’s “opposition to our socialist colleagues has absolutely nothing to do with their gender, with their religion or with their race, it has to do with the content of their policies.”
President Trump weighed in again on Tuesday, denying that his previous tweets criticizing the four Democrat congresswomen were racist. Trump insisted, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap. This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat Congresswomen, who I truly believe, based on their actions, hate our Country.”
“Why isn’t the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said? Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!” Trump added.
OMAR SAYS HER CRITICISM OF THE US IS A SIGN OF HER LOVE FOR IT
Over the weekend, while speaking on a foreign policy panel at the liberal Netroots Nation conference in Philadelphia, Congresswoman Omar sought to make light of her past anti-Semitic comments and the firestorm they unleashed.
“Something that I get criticized for all the time. It’s not what you think, so don’t gasp,” Omar said, prompting laughter from the audience.
“It is that I am anti-American because I criticize the United States. [But] I believe, as an immigrant, I probably love this country more than anyone that is naturally born and because I am ashamed of it continuing to live in its hypocrisy.”
Omar said that when people ask her why she can’t be “more like an American [which] used to be a very positive thing,” she answers:
“We export American exceptionalism, the great America, the land of liberty and justice. If you ask anybody walking on the side of the street somewhere in the middle of the world, they will tell you, ‘America the great,’ but we don’t live those values here. That hypocrisy is one that I am bothered by. I want America the great to be America the great.”
Tlaib tweeted in response to Trump’s challenge, “I am fighting corruption in our country. I do it every day when I hold your administration accountable as a U.S. Congresswoman.”
Over a screenshot of Trump’s tweets, Congresswoman Pressley wrote, “This is what racism looks like. We are what democracy looks like.”
California Senator Kamala Harris, one of three liberals closing in behind frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden in the race for the 2020 Democrat Presidential nomination, tweeted, “Let’s call the president’s racist attack exactly what it is: un-American.”
Harris came to Pelosi’s defense last week after AOC accused the Speaker of disrespecting women of color.
“That’s not my experience with Nancy Pelosi,” said Harris. “And I’ve known her and worked with her for years. I’ve known her to be very respectful of women of color and very supportive of them.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has also gained ground in the polls against Biden since the recent Democrat presidential debate, said of Trump’s recommendation, “Let’s be clear about what this vile comment is: A racist and xenophobic attack on Democratic congresswomen.”
MOST REPUBLICANS DECLINE TO COMMENT
Most Republican officials and senior appointed members of the Trump administration, including Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, declined to comment on the president’s provocative statements.
One exception was Susan Collins of Maine, one of the Senate’s few remaining centrist GOP senators. She said in a statement, “I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus, especially when it comes to their views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement. But the President’s tweet that some members of Congress should go back to the ‘places from which they came’ was way over the line, and he should take that down.”
Media defenders of AOC and her squad were quick to point out that three out of the four women in the squad were born in the United States. Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent, and was born in New York. Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Tlaib was born in Detroit, Michigan. Omar is the only one the four who was born abroad, in Sudan. She became a naturalized US citizen after emigrating legally to this country with her parents at the age of 12.
But Trump’s meaning was clear. The four Democrat congresswomen are consistently critical of the US and rarely speak with any pride about this country.
TRUMP COMES TO PELOSI’S DEFENSE
A few days earlier, Trump had come to Pelosi’s defense after AOC, in a Washington Post interview, had accused Pelosi of discriminating against her squad.
Shortly after AOC and her progressive supporters openly challenged the Speaker’s control over House Democrats on the vote for border humanitarian funding, Pelosi sought to minimize their influence. The Speaker gave an interview to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in which she suggested that their power to affect legislation was almost nil. “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.”
In response, AOC suggested Pelosi might have a racial motivation in her criticism of the four fresh congresswomen, saying, “When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more-moderate members, which I understood. But the persistent singling out . . . it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful . . . the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
Trump tweeted Friday, “I deal with Nancy Pelosi a lot and we go back and forth and it’s fine, but I think that a group of people is being very disrespectful to her. I’ll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi, she is not a racist and for them to call her a racist is a disgrace.”
PELOSI RESPONDS TO TRUMP’S PRAISE WITH AN INSULT
Pelosi did not thank the president for coming to her defense. Instead, in an effort to hold her increasingly fractured caucus together, the embattled Speaker continued to distance herself from the president. On Sunday, Pelosi tweeted, “When Donald Trump tells four American congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again. Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.” She condemned Trump’s tweets as “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation.”
In a letter to her Democrat colleagues, Pelosi added, “Let me be clear, our caucus will continue to forcefully respond to these disgusting attacks. The House cannot allow the president’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the president’s xenophobic tweets.”
On Monday, Trump expressed disappointment with her harsh reaction to his statement and her characterization of his motive. “So Speaker Pelosi said, ‘Make America white again.’ That’s a very racist — that’s a very racist statement. I’m surprised she’d say that,” Trump said to reporters at an unrelated “Made in America” event held on the White House lawn. Trump also doubled down on his previous statement that the four members of AOC’s squad all “hate our country.”
“IF YOU HATE THIS COUNTRY, YOU ARE FREE TO LEAVE”
He added that if “you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave. . . You can leave right now. Come back if you want, don’t come back, that’s okay too,” adding that few people would miss the four if they did decide to leave.
Trump denied that he had been disrespectful to the Democrat congresswomen, noting that in his original tweets, he did not mention them by name. But then Trump mentioned Congresswoman Omar, recalling a 2013 television interview in which Omar talked about “how great al Qaeda is” and how, “when I think of al Qaeda, I can hold my chest out
” Trump also said that Omar openly hates Israel and hates Jews, mentioning her controversial statement about the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center being carried out by “some people.”
Trump also referred to AOC’s role in blowing up a deal that local and state government leaders had negotiated with Amazon to establish a major new business center in New York City, and the damage that the loss of that project did to the city’s economy and morale.
AOC-PELOSI DISPUTE TRIGGERED BY A BUDGET BILL
The dispute between Pelosi and AOC first went public a few weeks ago, after AOC tried to organize a revolt by House Democrats against the Speaker’s decision to support a Trump-administration-supported $4.6-billion Senate bill to provide humanitarian relief at overcrowded holding facilities at the US-Mexican border.
That measure passed the House with more Republican than Democrat votes, and AOC and other liberal Democrats complained that the bill didn’t do enough to protect migrant children being held in badly overcrowded detention centers. Democrats also expressed fears that Trump would redirect the appropriated money to build more fencing along the southern border instead of spending it on humanitarian relief for migrants.
Congresswoman Omar said a vote for the bill amounted to a vote “to keep kids in cages.”
AIDE TO AOC BLASTS DEMOCRAT CONGRESSWOMAN FOR HER VOTE
The simmering dispute between AOC and Pelosi flared up again last week, after the official House Democratic Caucus Twitter account, which is controlled by the Speaker, criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, for his criticism of Congresswoman Sharice Davids, one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress. Davids was condemned by Chakrabarti, presumably on AOC’s behalf, for following Speaker Pelosi’s recommendation that Democrats support the emergency funding bill to relieve the crisis on the Southern border.
Chakrabarti wrote on June 27, after the border bill passed, that those who voted for the legislation had become this generation’s “new Southern Democrats. . . [determined] to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 1940s.” Chakrabarti tried to soften the harsh remark by adding, “I don’t think people have to be personally racist to enable a racist system, and the same could even be said of the Southern Democrats. I don’t believe Sharice is a racist person, but her voters are showing her to enable a racist system.”
In a belated response, the Speaker’s Twitter account challenged Chakrabarti’s comment. “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color? Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice. She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue.” The tweet closed by adding, “Keep Her Name Out Of Your Mouth.”
To make sure everybody understood who was behind the criticism of AOC’s chief of staff, Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, retweeted the message on his personal account.
Pelosi told reporters that some members of her caucus “took offense” at the remark by Chakrabarti and that she had “addressed” the issue, but “how they’re interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them.”
According to the Washington Post, some Democrat House members are expecting an apology from Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti for the offensive comment about Davids, but others say they will not be satisfied until AOC removes Chakrabarti from his job as her chief of staff.
Pelosi told reporters that she does not want to interfere, leaving it up to AOC. “[I am] not going to discipline a member’s staff. That’s up to the member to do,” Pelosi explained. But she did add that she had been unaware of Chakrabarti’s insulting tweet “until members came to me, some almost crying, some very upset and angry about the language
Also joining the attack on AOC’s chief of staff was former Obama White House chief of staff, former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. He was quoted by Maureen Dowd, in a follow-up to a New York Times column about the AOC-Pelosi dispute, calling Chakrabarti “a snot-nosed punk.”
“What votes did you get?” Emanuel asked rhetorically. “You really think weakening the speaker is the right strategy to try to get rid of Donald Trump and everything he stands for?”
LIBERALS DENY MEMBERS OF THE SQUAD HAVE NO FOLLOWING
Over the weekend, liberals speaking at the annual Netroots Nation conference pushed back, defending AOC and her squad against Pelosi’s assertion that they represent only themselves and not Democrat Party interests as a whole.
Panel moderator Aimee Allison declared, “They’re more than four votes. For millions of us, these women of color in Congress represent generations of blood, sweat, and tears; of struggle for us to have representation. They represent the best of American democracy. And yet, if you read the news, they’ve faced attacks all year from the right wing and from Democratic leadership.”
Congresswoman Pressley, who is black, added to the tensions between Pelosi and AOC when she suggested that the Congressional Black Caucus, closely allied with Pelosi, was no longer really representing the interests of American blacks. While denying that she was discussing a “palace intrigue” among the Democrats, Pressley said she is no longer interested in bringing another “chair to an old [negotiating] table.”
“This is the time to shake that table,” Pressley declared. “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”
Later, in an effort to soften Pressley’s criticism of Democrat black leaders, her spokeswoman explained that “diversity at the table doesn’t matter if there’s not real diversity in policy.”
BLACK CONGRESSMEN CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
One of the House Democrats most affected by AOC’s accusation that Pelosi is being unfair to female Democrats of color is Congressman William Lacy Clay of Missouri, who criticized AOC for attacking a fellow Democrat on the basis of race. “What a weak argument, because you can’t get your way?” Clay said of Ocasio-Cortez’s remark. “And because you are getting pushback, you resort to use the race card? [That’s] unbelievable to me. It’s damaging to this party and the internal workings of the Democratic Party. I can tell you it’s not helpful.”
Clay also accused AOC and her supporters of supporting 2020 primary challenges by progressive candidates against several veteran Democrat lawmakers, including himself and Congressman Henry Cuellar, a leader of the Democrat Hispanic caucus.
Another Democrat target of AOC’s squad, with the support of the progressive Justice Democrats group, is New York City Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. As the youngest member of the House Democrat leadership, Jeffries is considered to be a likely successor to Pelosi when she steps down as Speaker, as she has promised to do by 2022 at the latest. Jeffries is doing his best to minimize the internal conflict while focusing the party’s attention on Trump, their common enemy.
“Donald Trump has brought the question of race to the forefront of American politics, so it’s no surprise that there will be ongoing and continuous and serious and often uncomfortable public discussions on the subject,” Jeffries said. “At the end of the day, our common enemy is Donald Trump, not other members of the House Democratic Caucus.”
Another black congresswoman, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, was also upset that Democrats are using racial accusations against one another. “They should be pointing the finger at [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump,” Coleman said.
“I don’t think anyone is calling Joe Biden a racist. I don’t think anyone has any reason to call Nancy Pelosi a racist. I think that we can have these bold discussions and people can disagree on certain issues. But this is not helpful, not helpful at all,” she added.
Some Republicans enjoyed the spectacle of Democrats on the extreme left tearing themselves apart over their obsession with identity politics. GOP Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas tweeted for Pelosi’s benefit, “Madam Speaker, welcome to the true nature of identity politics, where you’re accused of being racist for no reason at all, and where intellectually lazy insults are used against you as a way to replace substantive debate of your argument or idea.”
The open dispute between Pelosi and AOC over the border bill vote, and AOC’s accusation that the Speaker is “singling out” women of color on the basis of racial bias, left many congressional black Democrats in an embarrassing position. New York Congressman Gregory Meeks’ reaction was, “All I can say is, I don’t know what she [AOC] meant by that. Clearly the Speaker has been inclusive of women of color. When you have a caucus like we have, that has been as diverse as ours, the Speaker has been very inclusive.”
PELOSI INSISTS SHE HAS NO REGRETS
AOC has since tried to soften her accusation, stating that she did not intend to call Pelosi a racist. But the self-inflicted wound on Democrat party unity from her “singling out” remark remains raw and open.
Pelosi does not appear to have taken it personally. In her interview with Dowd, the Speaker said, “If the left doesn’t think I’m left enough, so be it. As I say to these people, come to my basement. I have these signs about single-payer [medical care] from 30 years ago.”
And the Speaker is not backing down in face of the criticism from AOC and her allies. When asked whether she had any regrets for being quoted in the New York Times saying that AOC’s squad has no following and controls only four votes in the House, Pelosi replied self-confidently, “I have no regrets about anything. Regrets is not what I do.”
She also denies AOC’s accusation. Pelosi insisted last week that, “we respect the value of every member of our caucus. The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing. Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power. And we have a big fight, and we’re in the arena and that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.”
The Washington Post says that despite initial efforts by Pelosi to reach out to AOC, shortly before last November’s midterm election, the two were never able to establish a lasting political partnership. The two reportedly have not spoken to each other one-on-one since February, when Ocasio-Cortez declined Pelosi’s request that she join her select committee on climate change.
Since then, Pelosi has been quoted several times making dismissive remarks about Ocasio-Cortez and her proposals, such as calling her Green New Deal “the Green Dream or whatever.”
Ocasio-Cortez said that after the third or fourth time Pelosi insulted her, she decided to ignore it, instead of picking a fight. But now that other Democrats are urging AOC to re-establish a working contact with Pelosi, she reportedly replied that she does not want to, because, “there hasn’t really been a relationship, to be frank. It’s difficult.”
A GENERATIONAL DISPUTE
Some Democrat analysts attribute the friction to the large age difference between the competing sets of Democrat party leaders. With the exception of Jeffries, everyone on Pelosi’s team is nearing the age of 80. AOC is just 29, and the other members of her squad are members of the same generation.
Pelosi and her team have been fighting for more liberal policies on the same issues for decades, including climate change measures, more universal health care access and sentencing reforms for the criminal justice system, but they have been doing it with a more moderate Democrat base, against stubborn Republican opposition.
Pelosi’s tactics have enjoyed significant, but gradual success, particularly during the Obama years. She has spent more than 30 years perfecting her insider political game. Her greatest legislative accomplishment was the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2010.
The new generation of progressive activists are much more impatient. They reject the strategy of moderation and slow, incremental change which Pelosi has been following as the House Democrat leader for the past 16 years, and demand immediate implementation of their socialist, big government, high deficit spending platform, through crash programs such as the Green New Deal.
Liberal Democrats are counting on a wave election in 2020 in which moderate American voters repudiate Trump’s leadership and give them the mandate to implement the radical policy changes they are proposing.
But the distractions and divisions created by the progressive camp’s ideological extremism might become self-defeating. Some Democrat strategists are warning that lockstep party support next year for such radical proposals as Medicare for All, open borders, and the Green New Deal, could give Trump populist themes he can exploit to galvanize his supporters once again, enabling him to pull off another unlikely electoral upset.
The dispute between AOC and Pelosi reflects a much larger battle for the political soul of the Democrat Party, between older establishment white liberals like Pelosi and younger people of color from activist backgrounds like AOC. Both groups want to defeat President Trump and implement liberal policies, but they are struggling to find the common ground necessary to enable them to agree on which voices should be heard and which ideas should be implemented.
PELOSI CONCERNED OVER DANGERS OF DIVISION
Nobody is more aware of the potential damage from internal divisions than Pelosi herself. At a closed-door meeting with her Democrat caucus last week, she made that clear by telling them to “think twice” before publicly criticizing a Democrat colleague. Then she quickly added, “Actually, don’t do that. Think once. You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay.”
Yet after hearing Pelosi’s lecture, Congresswoman Pressley was still unconvinced that she had a duty to stifle her criticisms. “I am worried about the signal that it sends to people I speak to and for, who sent me here with a mandate, and how it affects them,” Pressley explained.
Pelosi understands that the survival of her House majority next year and the defeat of Trump’s re-election bid depends on the Democrats’ ability to retain their unity, and the votes of independents and moderate Republicans who were the key to the Democrat victory in last November’s midterm election.
“A majority is a fragile thing,” she told her fellow Democrats in their closed-door meeting last week. She urged them to show “some level of respect and sensitivity” to their more moderate colleagues. The Speaker added, “You [can] make me the target [instead], but don’t make our
the target in all of this, because we have important fish to fry.”
Even this early in the 2020 campaign cycle, finger-pointing among party leaders and reckless public comments that offend important groups of supporters can do considerable damage to the efforts to unify behind its candidates. Certainly, the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments by Congresswoman Omar earlier this year, and the failure of fellow Democrats to clearly and specifically condemn them, has hurt the party’s support among some of the many non-religious Jews who still traditionally vote for Democrat candidates.
JEWISH CONGRESSMAN ELIOT ENGEL UNDER LIBERAL ATTACK
Despite repeated warnings from Jewish Democrat leaders, such as Congressman Eliot Engel and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both of New York, comments made by AOC and her fellow squad members continue to rustle Jewish voter sensitivities. In fact, the AOC-affiliated Justice Democrats group announced last month that it would support a more liberal primary challenger to fight Engel’s re-election bid next year for the safe Democrat congressional seat representing the north Bronx and southern Westchester County, to which Engel was first elected in 1989.
Engel, who chairs the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, was targeted because he belongs to the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats who support a “pro-growth” agenda along with a balanced federal budget. They also object to Engel’s longstanding support for Israel and its policies.
Engel’s liberal primary opponent, middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, recently said, “I think the Israeli government has moved very far to the right, and many of their policies have become very oppressive to the Palestinian people, to the point where a two-state solution is becoming more challenging each and every day. The government there needs to be scrutinized.”
In the 2018 Democrat primary for that seat, Engel beat three Democratic opponents and captured 73.7 percent of the vote. Engel was elected to the seat that November in the general election, running unopposed.
AOC’S CARELESS CLAIM INSULTS HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS
Another example of AOC’s insensitivity to Jewish concern was her comment following her brief visit to a detention center for migrants near the Mexican border last month. She deliberately exaggerated the poor conditions she found there by condemning the federal government for “running concentration camps on our southern border.”
Jewish leaders complained that AOC had evoked a totally unfair comparison. While US Border Patrol agents are doing their best to care for the tidal wave of migrants which has precipitated a humanitarian crisis due to overcrowding, the situation at the Mexican border is simply not comparable to the far more horrendous conditions that the Nazis deliberately created at their death camps.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that “AOC should ask Holocaust survivors and ex-GIs who liberated Dachau what that charnel house was like. She is insulting victims of genocide.
“AOC and others should stop demonizing Trump as a Nazi and instead forge a bipartisan fix to disastrous humanitarian situation at our southern border,” Cooper continued. “Otherwise, all members of Congress will share responsibility for failing to stop the suffering and even deaths.”
He added that comparing the “dedicated” men and women enforcing our laws to “Nazi mass murderers and war criminals” was also a “terrible insult.”
None of AOC’s fellow Democrats in the House uttered a word of criticism for her affront to the memory of the victims of Holocaust. The only one to address her comments was liberal New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, whose district includes the West Side of Manhattan and Boro Park. But not only did he defend AOC’s comments, he also re-tweeted them.
AOC had also said, “The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the Home of the Free is extraordinarily disturbing, and we need to do something about it. . . We are losing to an authoritarian and fascist presidency. I don’t use those words lightly. I don’t use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is.”
PRESSURING PELOSI TO CHANGE HER TACTICS
AOC and her allies have successfully forced their socialist/progressive agenda on the Democrat candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination, including plans like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Progressives have been increasing the pressure on Pelosi to implement their “resistance” strategy against Trump, which calls for cutting off all Democrat cooperation with Trump’s legislative proposals while moving forward with impeachment proceedings.
But as a veteran legislator, Pelosi understands the political necessity to keep the government functioning, and has thus been cautiously pushing back against the resistance strategy. She is also fearful that any serious Democrat attempt to impeach Trump, or to adopt the radical socialist proposals of the progressives, will alienate voters in 2020, enabling Trump to win re-election and Republicans to regain majority control over the House.
Pelosi’s pragmatic approach has been prompting her to cooperate with Trump to preserve and expand her party’s power, but it has angered AOC and the progressives in her squad. In order to maintain Democrat party unity and vote discipline in the House, the Speaker has been required to publicly defend their often provocative and sometimes outrageous statements. Otherwise, Pelosi would not be able to continue providing with the minimal amount of legislative cooperation with the Trump administration, necessary to keep the federal government functioning.
Pelosi’s challenge in trying to keep the progressives in line today is similar to the problems facing former GOP House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan after Republicans gained majority control of the House in the 2010 midterm due to the election of a large contingent of highly motivated conservative, but politically inexperienced, Tea Party candidates.
PELOSI NOW FACING LEGISLATIVE DEADLINES
That clash is likely to intensify in the days ahead, because the Speaker is currently facing the necessity to pass major fiscal legislation before Congress adjourns for its annual August recess. According to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the federal budget deficit will soon reach the federal debt limit under law, which could force a government shutdown due to lack of spending authority as early as September.
Pelosi also needs an agreement with the Republicans on next year’s government spending levels to prevent draconian automatic budget cuts on January 1 to meet the domestic and military spending “sequester” caps specified by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
She is also faced with the question of whether House Democrats should support ratification of the USMCA trade agreement, which the Trump administration has negotiated with Mexico and Canada. The bill updates and improves the flawed NAFTA trade agreement which Trump campaigned against in 2016, but it includes many reforms that Democrats also support.
Even though these measures have broad support and are widely recognized as practical economic necessities, AOC and her fellow progressives are likely to oppose them, both to deny Trump any legislative accomplishment that he could use in his 2020 re-election campaign, and as part of the progressive effort to replace the country’s political status quo with a radical socialist agenda.
A PARALLEL DEMOCRAT POLITICAL BATTLE
As the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies, and the large initial field of Democrats is whittled down to a handful of more serious candidates, the internal pressures will increase between the establishment wing of the party, ably led by Pelosi, and the radical progressives who have adopted the inexperienced AOC as their champion.
The contest deciding who will win the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination will parallel a simultaneous battle for the ideological and political soul of the party, which is likely to continue until the winner of the 2020 Democrat nomination is clearly determined.
Meanwhile, President Trump will be closely watching these developments, ready jump into the fray at the first sign that he could turn the spreading divisions within his opponents’ camp to his political advantage, and help him win re-election.
The Washington Post, the Associated Press and the Jewish News Service contributed to this report.