In this 2014 photo, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) speaks to demonstrators gathered in Ferguson, Mo., to protest the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
In this 2014 photo, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) speaks to demonstrators gathered in Ferguson, Mo., to protest the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty)

Veteran African-American Democrats in the House are taking freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to task over how she’s come for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and comments AOC’s chief of staff made comparing moderate Democratic caucuses to Southern pro-segregationist Democrats of old.


The takes by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and William “Lacy” Clay (D-Mo.) come on the heels of an ongoing critique by Pelosi of Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the “Fab Freshmen,” AOC’s closest progressive allies in the House—Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Politico reports.

Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post Pelosi’s treatment was “outright disrespectful” for the “explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”


But in an interview with The Hill, Clay—a House member who faces a primary challenge by a progressive backed by a group founded by AOC chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti—accused Ocasio-Cortez of “using the race card” in her pushback on Pelosi:

Clay, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, fumed at Ocasio-Cortez and the group of progressive lawmakers that includes Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.).

“What a weak argument, because you can’t get your way and because you’re getting pushback you resort to using the race card? Unbelievable.


“It shows you how weak their argument is when they have to resort and direct racist accusations toward Speaker Pelosi … it’s very disappointing to me,” Clay said.

Clay’s comments came a day after Justice Democrats, described by Politico as “a hardline progressive activist group that Chakrabarti himself helped found,” threw its support behind Clay’s primary challenger, Cori Bush.

On Thursday, Pelosi shut down any detailed discussion of the intra-party feuding, telling reporters, according to Politico:


“I said what I’m going to say in [a private] caucus [meeting Wednesday]. That’s where this is appropriate.”

But, as Politico reports, both Sewell and Clay were also clear about their offense at Chakrabarti comparing the centrist New Democrats caucus, vice chaired by Sewell, as well as the Blue Dog Coalition to pro-segregation Democrats of the 1940s in a now-deleted tweet:

“Instead of ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal,’ let’s call the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus the ‘New Southern Democrats.’ They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did the 40s,” Chakrabarti wrote in the tweet.


Like Pelosi, Sewell said she wouldn’t go into specifics about what she discussed with fellow members of her party, but the House member who represents Birmingham, Ala., a city with an infamous civil rights history told Politico:

“It’s enough to say that I’ve issued my statement about the tweet that her chief of staff did. I was highly offended by thatI represent the Deep South.”


Clay was harsher in his comments, calling AOC’s chief of staff “juvenile,” in speaking with The Hill.

Clay said that Chakrabarti’s tweet making comparisons to the segregationist South showed “how ignorant he is to American history ... and about who are really segregationists.”


As one could imagine, with the presidential and other legislative races approaching in 2020, Democratic leadership is wanting to call attention away from the infighting.

But at least one Democratic leader has AOC and the other freshmen progressives’ back, with Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal telling Politico that :

she plans to raise her concerns with Pelosi about the issue in an upcoming meeting about broader issues — specifically how singling out freshman women of color like Ocasio-Cortez works to “diminish progressive power” in the caucus.

“I don’t think the speaker is used to having a group of members who has bigger Twitter followings than her. I don’t think most of us are,” Jayapal said in an interview Thursday.

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