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Democrats struggle to quell infighting

House Democrats are scrambling to pick up the pieces following one of their biggest ruptures since seizing the House majority in the historic elections of last fall.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (D-Calif.), at a closed-door meeting of the caucus Wednesday, took the extraordinary step of admonishing her troops for openly attacking one another over policy disputes. She urged them to keep their internal sniping to themselves — or direct it toward her — but to avoid public grievances that “are playing completely into the hands” of the Republicans.

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Some liberals, however, feel Pelosi should do the same after she used a recent New York Times interview to question the influence of four outspoken freshmen known as “the squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate Biden distances himself from Green New Deal during town hall Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts MORE (D-N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Kamala Harris's facial expressions during debate go viral MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarVeterans launch pro-law enforcement super PAC with battlegrounds ad buys Kamala Harris and the stereotypes we place on Black women Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPerdue's rival raises nearly M after senator mispronounces Kamala Harris's name Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (Mass.) — who are darlings of the activist left.

Democratic leaders were quick to frame Wednesday’s meeting as one fostering unity following a divisive fight over border spending, and ahead of tough debates to come on defense spending, the minimum wage and another round of promised immigration bills.

But some lawmakers left the gathering with a bad taste in their mouths, warning that the tensions — and the stern warning from Pelosi and other party leaders — will only distract Democrats from accomplishing their policy goals.

“I just don't see how any of this is helpful,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Poll shows Biden leading Trump, tight House race in key Nebraska district MORE (D-Wash.), a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“There's repair to be done. Lots of repair.”

Intraparty flare-ups are hardly rare on Capitol Hill, as leaders of both parties are well accustomed to managing “family discussions” about all manner of disagreement over strategy and policy. But Pelosi’s message to the full caucus Wednesday was unusual for its stern directness.  

“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK,” Pelosi said, according to a source in the room.

She made a point of defending the most vulnerable centrist members and urged Democrats to train their ire toward Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (R-Ky.) instead of each other.

“Mitch McConnell is the person who stood in the way of our doing more, not anybody in our caucus,” Pelosi said, referring to House Democrats’ initial border aid package last month. “You make me the target, but don't make our Blue Dogs and our New Dems the target in all of this, because we have important fish to fry.”

Before lawmakers left for the break two weeks ago, liberals and centrists were in open warfare over legislation to provide resources for agencies handling the flow of migrants at the southern border. Progressives pushed for stricter standards for how migrants are treated at detention facilities amid documentation of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

But members of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus pushed for the House to clear a bipartisan Senate version that liberals didn’t believe went far enough. With time running short, Pelosi relented and put the Senate-passed bill on the House floor.

Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Barrett touts independence to sidestep confirmation questions Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Poll shows Biden leading Trump, tight House race in key Nebraska district MORE (D-Wis.), a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, tweeted: “Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the Child Abuse Caucus?”

Despite other lawmakers interpreting Pelosi’s comments on Wednesday to be aimed at him, Pocan said he didn’t take it that way.

“If Nancy wanted to say something, she would have said something,” Pocan told The Hill. “But if she had something to say to me, I don't think she'd be afraid to say it. And she hasn't.”

“If people get hurt by things like that, they should probably find another profession. I think whenever people talk about tweeting, they need to find other things to talk about,” Pocan said.

Ocasio-Cortez, for her part, made clear she has no intention of limiting her criticism to only Republicans if she sees fit.

“When we approve $5 billion to agencies that are killing kids — and I represent a district that's 50 percent immigrant — my families and communities feel attacked. And I have a responsibility to stand up for them,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“And I think that it would be hypocritical for me to remain silent on injustices just because those injustices may come from our side of the aisle. I think that it erodes one's integrity ... to only point out wrongs when Republicans do them and to not point out wrongs when Democrats do them too,” Ocasio-Cortez added.

House Democrats are already facing some difficulties passing an annual defense policy bill. Progressives think the $733 billion price tag is too high and are demanding amendments to limit President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE’s war powers.

Democratic leaders expressed confidence that the bill would draw widespread support among their caucus but stressed that it’s an important test of their majority.

“This is an important moment for Democrats to pass our own NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act]. We're in charge. We have to make it clear that Democrats are serious about our commitment to the military and protecting the United States,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillinePocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Pelosi suggests Trump setting 'dangerous' example with quick return to White House MORE (D-R.I.), the head of House Democrats’ messaging arm.

Freshman Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), a Problem Solvers Caucus member who flipped a GOP-held seat last fall, praised Pelosi for defending the moderates in frontline districts like his. He was among the handful of freshmen who did not vote for Pelosi as Speaker in January.

“I thought that the criticism of Pelosi was wrong. I think the Speaker did the right thing,” Van Drew said of the border bill fight. “I didn’t vote for Nancy. But I have to say she's trying as best she can to put together three groups, basically.”

Jayapal lamented the flare-up, while suggesting more than one side is to blame.

“I don't think that ... anybody should be undermining members ... but I think that's been happening at numerous levels. There isn't just one person,” Jayapal said. “So it feels a little strange that this is the time when that is being brought forward.”

“I have been very respectful of what Pelosi said about the squad,” she added. “I just ... don't think it's helpful.”

Van Drew expressed hope that Democrats will find a way to work together on legislation like raising the minimum wage, additional measures to address the situation at the border and the defense policy bill. And he warned that it’s important for centrists to have their say.

“We cannot maintain the majority in this House without moderates. Period,” Van Drew said.

“I am hopeful that cooler minds will prevail and that folks are going to calm down. Because here's the deal: If you don't have the majority, you don't get to make decisions at all. So you work with your brethren in the majority and try to understand their viewpoint so you have the opportunity to make decisions.”

Scott Wong contributed.