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 PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico This week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez calls for Kavanaugh to be impeached Why are we turning a blind eye to right-wing incitement of violence? Bill Maher, Michael Moore spar over Democrats' strategy for 2020 MORE (D-N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOmar says she hopes Netanyahu not reelected Bill Maher, Michael Moore spar over Democrats' strategy for 2020 Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar says she hopes Netanyahu not reelected Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Omar responds to family of 9/11 victim who called her out at anniversary ceremony MORE (Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyIlhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley dance to Lizzo's 'Truth Hurts' in video Bill Maher, Michael Moore spar over Democrats' strategy for 2020 Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight 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 JayapalPelosi woos progressives on prescription drug pricing plan Democrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Overnight Health Care: Watchdog details severe trauma suffered by separated children | Judge approves B CVS-Aetna merger | House Dem Caucus chair backs 'Medicare for All' 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Senator asked FBI to follow up on new information about Kavanaugh last year Congress must reinstate assault weapons ban 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 PocanOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Liberal Democrat eyes aid cuts to Israel after Omar, Tlaib denied entry 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 TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat 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 CicillineO'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Cicilline: O'Rourke's AR-15 comment 'doesn't help' 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.