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Thursday, November 30, 2023

‘She got so mad at me’: book on the ‘Squad’ details AOC-Pelosi clashes

‘She got so mad at me’: book on the ‘Squad’ details AOC-Pelosi clashes

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells Ryan Grim life in Congress ‘completely transformed’ after Democratic leader stepped down

Nancy Pelosi speaks on Capitol Hill as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez looks on, in June 2021.
Nancy Pelosi speaks on Capitol Hill as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez looks on, in June 2021. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

“In a call to congratulate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her momentous 2018primary win over Joe Crowley, a Democratic grandee from New York, Nancy Pelosi told the young socialist from the Bronx: “We already have too many old white men here in Congress.”

The quip from the then Democratic minority leader, who went on to be House speaker until January this year, seemed to indicate strong affinity for the younger woman.

But according to a new book, The Squad: AOC and the Hope of a Political Revolution, about the rise of young leftwing representatives of colour, most of them women, things did not work out so well.

The book by Ryan Grim, a reporter for the Intercept, will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

Now widely known as AOC, Ocasio-Cortez rose from obscurity to win her election at the age of just 28. Her defeat of Crowley, then 56 and thought to have designs on Pelosi’s job, made waves in Washington – Donald Trump reportedly compared AOC to Eva Perón – and around the world.

But though Pelosi may have been grateful to see Crowley removed, relations with the woman who beat him would never run smooth.

Their first “live meeting”, Grim says, came in July 2018 at a restaurant in San Francisco, which Pelosi represents. Then 76, Pelosi had been in Congress since 1987, Democratic House leader since 2003 and speaker from 2007 to 2011.

The older woman “spoke for nearly the entire lunch, dishing out her trademark looping, run-on sentences to her bewildered companions.

“‘She just keeps talking; it’s a fascinating thing,’ Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC’s chief of staff, recalls. ‘We were eating, and she just talked the entire time without even taking a break. And I wasn’t sure exactly what she was saying, but I was like, ‘Huh, OK.’

“Getting Pelosi’s unfiltered thoughts was both eye-opening and disturbing,” Grim writes. “Ocasio-Cortez, who had made the slogan ‘Abolish Ice’ [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] central to her challenge to Crowley, was particularly perplexed to hear Pelosi say that the phrase had been injected into American political discourse by the Russians and that Democrats needed to quash it.

“AOC wondered, ‘This is how the leader of the party thinks?’

“The next time Pelosi came to New York, she tried to connect … but AOC’s staff slow-walked things long enough to dodge the meeting and … ducked efforts to schedule calls.”

In November 2018, before taking her House seat, AOC joined a sit-in at Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office staged by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented climate group.

Grim, who was there, writes that Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, “complained that they were protesting the wrong person, that Pelosi wanted all the same things”. AOC agreed, saying she wanted to create “momentum”. Grim calls the sit-in “AOC’s first great triumph … launch[ing] her as a power player”. Chakrabarti said Pelosi “wasn’t super hostile” in a meeting that followed.

Grim also reports how progressives then supported Pelosi for speaker, in the face of a centrist challenge marshaled by Josh Gottheimer, a short-tempered ex-Clinton aide from New Jersey. As speaker, though, Pelosi made sure to limit the power of AOC and another progressive woman of colour, Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

“Pramila has a megaphone and actually knows how to make noise,” Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, told Grim. “That’s what [Pelosi] was worried about with AOC … that these are two people who are clearly going to … advance lefty stuff, and that’s what pissed her off so much.”

Grim reports episodes in which Pelosi and progressives worked together – and many moments of tension.

Pelosi often expressed frustration, in 2019 telling the New York Times that AOC and her fellow Squad members “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 the same fight over immigration policy, Pelosi offered a lecture about how Congress works, saying: “Some of you are here to make a beautiful paté, but we’re making sausage most of the time.”

Pelosi greets Ocasio-Cortez before her ceremonial swearing-in picture, in January 2019.
Pelosi greets Ocasio-Cortez before her ceremonial swearing-in picture, in January 2019. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Eventually, Pelosi and AOC met in private. According to one Pelosi biographer, the speaker “blew up”. Pelosi told reporters the meeting “cleared the air”.

Frustration clearly remained. In one instance, Grim reports that in 2021, AOC “confronted” Pelosi at a caucus meeting, as progressives resisted a push to pass a major infrastructure bill without assurances about a social spending package including measures to combat the climate crisis.

In another, reporting a rare call between the two women, Grim says AOC told Pelosi “that even though she had beaten Joe Crowley, who relied on [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] vendors and consultants, nobody had reached out to hear how she had done it.

“I told her DCCC campaign vendors sucked,” AOC said, “and that it was strange that after I beat Crowley not a single person bothered to ask how I beat him … and how I think we should pay attention and ask questions when that happens, to spot weaknesses. She got so mad at me.”

Throughout his book, Grim cites texts from AOC. One focuses on the age gap between her and Pelosi: “The amount of times she told me that stupid ‘I have protest signs older than you in my basement’ shit. Like yeah but mine don’t collect dust.”

Another text, from spring this year, finds AOC considering life after Pelosi, Hakeem Jeffries of New York having succeeded her as Democratic minority leader.

“I thought things would get worse,” AOC says. “I thought a lot of my misery was due to leadership more broadly having a thing against me. But … my life has completely transformed. It’s crazy. And it’s that that made me realise it was kind of just [Pelosi] the whole time.”

Now, AOC adds, “senior members talk to me, [committee] chairs are nice to me, people want to work together. I’m shocked. I couldn’t even get floor time before.“

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