House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to present a united Democratic Party on Friday as lawmakers closed out a Washington-area retreat, despite suggestions that she is grappling with her own version of the “Tea Party” that roiled the Republican Party establishment during the Obama years.
Pelosi told reporters after the Democratic Caucus’ policy retreat in Virginia that it was a “very substantive, unifying, energizing” conference.
“This was an ‘alleluia,’ a cause for celebration for what it means in the lives of the American people,” she said.
But since reclaiming the gavel in January, the California Democrat has been forced to spend much of her time putting out fires from her party’s left flank as it pushes policies such as reparations for black Americans, ‘Medicare-for-all’ and the Green New Deal. She is currently facing another revolt against a bipartisan budget measure to increase spending for the Pentagon and domestic agencies, with critics on the left objecting to the increases for the military.
Amid a string of such confrontations, Melissa DeRosa, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, reportedly told a crowd on Thursday that a new Tea Party is forming on the left.
“We saw this play out in the Tea Party, and I feel like at the time the Democratic Party sort of stood on the other side and said, ‘They’re destroying themselves. How do they not see what they are doing? This is crazy! But fine, they can destroy themselves; it’s to our betterment,'” DeRosa said, according to Crain’s. “And I think a version of that is happening right now on the Democratic side.”
On the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he sympathized with Pelosi.
“I was almost tempted to call up my friend the speaker and say, ‘Congratulations, you’ve got a Freedom Caucus on your hands,'” he told reporters Thursday, referring to the conservative faction aligned in part with the Tea Party movement.
For her part, Pelosi has dismissed the idea that Democrats are divided, scolding reporters on Thursday: “You guys have it all wrong.”
“We have such a unified caucus. But it serves your purpose to say we’re seething,” she said, according to Roll Call. “You’re on the wrong track. But you can waste your time on that while we go forward with what we’re going to do for the American people.”
But as she uttered those words, another controversy was brewing from the freshman class of the party as Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was criticized for describing 9/11 as “some people did something.” Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., rallied to Omar’s side as she faced fierce criticism from Republicans for the remarks.
On Friday, speaking at the end of the Democratic Caucus meeting, Pelosi indicated when asked about the controversy that she’d be speaking to Omar about the issue, saying her policy is to “call them in before I call them out.”
The 9/11 controversy comes a month after Omar suggested that supporters of Israel were pushing for U.S. politicians to declare “allegiance” to that nation. The comments resulted in a broad resolution against bigotry that did not mention Omar by name, leading to accusations that party leaders allowed the text to be watered down under pressure.
But Democrats have also had difficulty forming a message on hot-topic issues like immigration where, amid activists and some 2020 hopefuls calling for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), lawmakers have struggled to come up with a solution to the crisis at the border other than opposing President Trump’s controversial policies.
The Washington Post reported that at this week’s retreat, a “session on the issue organized by liberal members largely focused on how to reduce enforcement and detention.”
But legislative plans currently do not include border security measures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.