Don’t be fooled by tabloid headlines, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi aren’t feuding

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Christobel Hastings
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Sure, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might have had a private meeting. But it doesn’t mean that they’re feuding, no matter what tabloid media or Donald Trump says. It’s time to focus our attention on the issues that really matter, rather than get distracted by the prospect of a high-profile spat.

One is a millennial Democratic Socialist and activist who became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The other is an American politician with a 31-year career in Congress who is currently the speaker of the United States House of Representatives. You know both of their names, and if you were to take the current headlines at face value, you’d believe the two boundary-breaking women are bitterly feuding. So what exactly is the deal with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi?

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To understand the supposed fallout, we have to tear our gaze away from the sight of a generational catfight back to an emergency spending bill. The bill in question was a late-June vote for border security, which came in the wake of reports that migrant children were being denied access to basic toiletries such as toothpaste and soap. What was significant about this vote, however, was that Ocasio-Cortez, along with Representatives  Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley who make up “The Squad”, voted against Democratic leadership, explaining that they believed the bill couldn’t adequately protect migrant children from maltreatment.

The controversy kicked off when Pelosi gave a sit-down interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in which she criticised the squad for breaking against leadership. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi said. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

Ocasio-Cortez then responded to Pelosi’s comments in an interview with The Washington Post, denouncing what she viewed as an “outright disrespectful” attack on The Squad. “The persistent singling out…it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of colour.”

On Friday 26 June, Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi sat down for a meeting in the House Speaker’s office, which some publications have seen as evidence of a feud. “I have meetings with members all the time,” Pelosi said when asked about the meeting by reporters. “We covered a range of issues in our conversation particular to the congresswoman’s committees.” Later, Pelosi added: “I don’t think we have that many differences.”

And that should have been the end of that. The relatively minor political disagreement between the Democrats might well have passed by quietly, given the four congresswomen have only broken with Pelosi on two occasions before. That was until Donald Trump, sensing an opportunity to create dissent, entered the fray.

Last Friday, the POTUS told reporters that Ocasio-Cortez had been “very disrespectful” to the House Speaker. “I don’t think that Nancy can let that go on,” he added. From that moment on, the news was filled with attention-grabbing headlines about Democratic infighting, complete with selectively chosen photographs of the two speaking passionately with pointed fingers. 

Why on earth would Donald Trump be coming to the defence of Pelosi, a Democrat he previously branded “a nasty, vindictive, horrible person” who was “incapable of doing deals”? A politician who he has nicknamed “Nervous Nancy” supposedly “because she’s a nervous wreck?” The highest-ranking woman in the history of American politics who he has insulted by calling a “mess”, “crazy” and a “disaster”?

Clearly, only when there’s an opportunity to create a distraction from the bigger forces at play.

Granted, there may well be strong differences of opinion between Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi over the way that younger politicians conduct themselves in public. One, after all, is a millennial firebrand that has built a reputation as the unrivalled queen of the Twitter takedown, whilst Pelosi has persevered through years of sexism in a male-dominated field to achieve her title as the nation’s first female Speaker of the House.

So too there may be tensions between Pelosi and The Squad, four prominent congresswomen who are boldly and unapologetically demanding long-overdue change for women of colour in the US. Whether Pelosi intended to “single out newly elected women of colour” or not when she criticised them, the fact remains that those in positions of power have a responsibility to elevate the voices of people who have been marginalised for too long. 

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That being said, in a recent New Yorker interview, Ocasio-Cortez gave no suggestion of a feud with Pelosi, instead highlighting the House Speaker’s strategic aims. 

“I think leadership, their primary goal right now is making sure that everyone who won a swing seat comes back,” Ocasio-Cortez remarked. “So I think that that’s where a lot of their time - rightfully, I think, justifiably - is invested, in those relationships.” 

Then, over the weekend, Pelosi came to the defence of The Squad when Donald Trump launched a racist attack on the four congresswomen of colour. “When @realDonaldTrump 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 wrote, adding that she rejected his “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation.”

When you look at the comments in context, it’s clear that there is little hostility between the two women, as Trump would have us believe. But by exaggerating the animosity, we are led to believe that the new generation of politicians, many of whom are bringing unprecedented representation to the fore, pose a serious threat to power. We are led to believe that women of colour are dangerously disruptive. And we are led to believe that the political infighting between Democrats can never result in solid leadership.

More importantly, when you strip away the smokescreen conjured by the prospect of two high-profile women fighting, there is much Donald Trump is attempting to distract from. The suffering of migrant women at the Southern border, the deliberate erosion of women’s reproductive rights, and the slew of sexual misconduct allegations that refuse to disappear from view. These are the topics that should be making headline news, and deserve our full, undivided attention.

Two female politicians disagreeing over a funding bill is not headline news. So let’s not be spun by Trump’s story.

Image: Getty