Face to face: Pelosi, AOC have own roles, centers of power

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democratic Caucus hold an event on the House steps to highlight their agenda since taking the majority in the 2018 election, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019. The House leaves for a five week August recess Friday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two of the most recognizable women in Democratic politics put down their weapons, stood close and tweeted their unity to the world.

The photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was intended to “clear the air” between the two and among Democrats broadly after weeks of public griping. But during the 30-minute face-to-face meeting in Pelosi’s soaring Capitol suite, they may well have recognized themselves in each other as key figures in the arc of Democratic politics.

“I don’t think there ever was any hatchet” to bury, Pelosi told reporters just after the summit, described by two Democrats with knowledge of the meeting as being just between the two lawmakers.

Born a half century apart, the 30-year House veteran and the New York newcomer dubbed “AOC” share a commitment on stalwart issues like lower-cost health care and prescription drugs. They are political dynamos who consider it something of an honor to have been vilified by President Donald Trump and his GOP allies as the “crazy,” ”nervous,” and un-American faces of the Democratic Party. And they’re giving each other an education — sometimes in public — on how to tread a path that winds from the House to social media ahead of the 2020 elections.

“In our caucus we have our differences,” Pelosi said later. “Respect that instead of making a big issue of it.”

Too late.

The pair had quarreled publicly over the clout of the freshmen who handed House control back to the Democrats — and returned the speakership to Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency.

The San Francisco Democrat, 79, had noted that the so-called progressive squad of four women of color that includes Ocasio-Cortez is only four people strong among dozens of Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez, 29, openly criticized Pelosi, saying she felt Pelosi had been “outright disrespectful” by “the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color” for criticism. Pelosi had remarked that Ocasio-Cortez and a cohort of other progressives were just four votes in a large Democratic caucus.

Trump’s racist tweets earlier this month urging the “squad” members to “go back” to where they came from ended up giving all Democratic factions something to unite against. All four squad members are U.S. citizens. Only one, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, was born outside the U.S.

Democrats slammed the administration for days. And talk began to bubble on Capitol Hill about a reconciliatory meeting between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, seen by some as a leader in the next generation of progressives.

On the first day of Congress’ August recess, the pair met in Pelosi’s second-floor suite just off the Rotunda. No refreshments or Pelosi’s cherished chocolates were served in the one-on-one meeting, according to a Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting. The session gave both women victories to report as well as signals to send to their respective constituencies.

Pelosi tweeted out a photo of the pair grinning and arm-in-arm with an American flag behind them, suggesting unity.

“Today, Congresswoman @RepAOC and I sat down to discuss working together to meet the needs of our districts and our country, fairness in our economy and diversity in our country,” the speaker wrote, tagging Ocasio-Cortez and naming some priorities of progressives and moderates alike.

Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent, meanwhile, suggested that his boss had Pelosi’s ear and had delivered a key message with good results.

“It was a very positive and productive meeting about progressive priorities,” he said, refusing to discuss specifics.

Ideologically much aligned on the government’s power and duty to help struggling Americans, the lawmakers draw power from different sources. Pelosi, mother of five and grandmother of nine, gets hers from the Constitution. Ocasio-Cortez draws it from dragon-slaying a Democratic veteran in 2018, winning her seat as the most visible of House freshmen and, now, from a Twitter following of 4.9 million. And they’ve shown signs of raising each other’s political games, from inside the House to the national political stage.

By example, Pelosi has urged Democrats to think pragmatically and treat their diverse opinions on such issues as climate change as assets.

Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, has taught classes to fellow House Democrats on how to use Twitter and Instagram to communicate to constituents in a politically effective way. And her following carries a promise — and a threat — to beam any news around the globe in an instant. Pelosi has said she marvels at the speed and reach of social media, which means she must reckon with liberal House Democrats in real time.

Both women have wielded power from their respective perches to vex Trump. Pelosi used her experience to force him to reopen the government last winter without money for the border wall he demanded — complete with a viral moment in which she clapped and smirked from behind him at the State of the Union address.

Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, has repeatedly burned Trump on his favorite medium, notably after his missive on the racist tweets, “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”

“You have a racist mind in your head, and a racist heart in your chest,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted back.

On Friday, both emerged from their meeting declaring unity.

Already, there were signs that Republicans were casting Ocasio-Cortez in a role played previously by Pelosi — as a fundraising foil and wrong-headed figure for voters to fear after she muscled through the Affordable Care Act.

The Trump campaign tweeted out a video that opens with a composite of the four members of the squad, with Ocasio-Cortez’s eyes covered by an animation of spectacles with swirly lenses.

“Meet the leaders of the Democratic Party,” it says.

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Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this story.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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