PHILADELPHIA — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), along with a handful of her freshman Democratic colleagues, reaffirmed her commitment to her progressive values Saturday, after a week roiled by party infighting.
“One thing I tell women of color is that we never needed to ask for permission or an invitation to lead,” Omar said in a keynote panel at the Netroots Nation conference, which included Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Deb Haaland (D-NM). “We were sent to Washington to lead with our values and have an agenda that really pushes that forward.”
She continued: “There is a constant struggle with people who have power about sharing power and we’re not in the business of asking to share that power, we’re in the interest of grabbing that power,” Omar said. “We are not carrying the water for this cruel administration. We are doing the job that people in this country put us forward to do.”
Omar’s comments come after tensions arose between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a group of newly elected Democratic lawmakers, including those speaking at Netroots, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Pelosi previously chided the insurgent members about their complaints after Democrats passed a $4.59 billion supplemental border funding bill in June, and has urged them not to tweet disparagingly about fellow Democrats.
The party’s more liberal wing has been critical of Pelosi’s reluctance to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Some Democrats also have chafed over her reticence to pursue an investigation against Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who tendered his resignation this week amid an outcry over his role in a sweetheart plea deal several years ago for convicted serial child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
While the House speaker was not mentioned by name at the Netroots panel, it was clear that the tension was on everyone’s minds as the lawmakers were introduced by moderator Aimee Allison.
“For millions of us, the women of color who entered Congress are more than four votes. For millions of us they represent blood, sweat, and tears and struggle for us to have representation,” Allison said.
“They represent the best of American democracy and yet they’ve faced attacks all year from the right wing as well as the Democratic Party leadership.”
The disagreement among House Democrats, which has been simmering for a while, bubbled to the surface after Pelosi’s New York Times interview published last week, which was interpreted as being dismissive of the young, liberal, diverse voices among the newest class of lawmakers.
The group, nicknamed “The Squad,” are all women of color with an enormous online megaphone via their massive followings on Twitter.
Pelosi, in an interview with columnist Maureen Dowd, said she was unconcerned that within her caucus “the left doesn’t think I’m left enough.”
She added: “I understand what they’re saying. But we have a responsibility to get something done, which is different from advocacy. We have to have a solution, not just a Twitter fight.”
The veteran politician from San Francisco tried to put the feud to rest, telling the Washington Post this week: “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 Squad’s unabashed support for progressive values was seen Saturday during a discussion about impeachment. Tlaib echoed comments she made in January, which caused much hand-wringing about civility on the Hill.
“We’re gonna impeach that m*********er, don’t worry. It’s up to you, it’s not up to us. We went from ‘let’s not talk about it’ to close to 80 members of Congress coming out and supporting it,” Tlaib told the Netroots audience.
“[Trump] dismisses the equal branch of the Constitution and he does it arrogantly. This is a country not a business. You need to act like a government is for the people.”
Both Omar and Tlaib were backed up by Pressley.
“I believe the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power and I don’t believe anyone is truly voiceless,” the Massachusetts lawmaker said.
“I do believe there are many people who are unheard and it’s our job to create space for them, not palace intrigue.”
This story was updated.