- Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Jeff Merkley blamed Democratic leadership for the $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package Congress passed last week that was bitterly opposed by many progressive Democrats.
- Jayapal and Merkley, who spoke at the annual Netroots Nation conference on Friday, agreed that House and Senate Democrats didn’t communicate effectively about their plans for the legislation, which they hoped would include stronger protections for migrants.
- Jayapal also responded to a recent rift between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several progressive freshmen lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
- “I’ve never felt disrespected as a woman of color by Nancy Pelosi,” Jayapal said, responding to Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that Pelosi had singled out freshmen women of color.
- Thousands of progressive activists are gathered in Philadelphia for the conference, which will feature a discussion with a handful of 2020 presidential candidates on Saturday.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
PHILADELPHIA — Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Jeff Merkley, both progressive Democrats, blamed Democratic leadership for the passage of a humanitarian aid package for the US southern border that many Democrats believe doesn’t contain strong enough protections for migrants.
Jayapal and Merkley spoke on Friday afternoon at Netroots Nation, the country’s largest gathering of progressive activists.
Merkley blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for giving into Republicans and moderate Democrats for deciding not to allow Democrats to conference on the aid package last week. He said that Senate Democrats were under the impression that it would go to conference — a chance to hash out differences between House and Senate bills — rather than the House voting on the Senate version of the bill.
“The complete assumption on the Senate side was that Speaker Pelosi would take it to conference, and she didn’t,” Merkley said, calling the outcome “horrendous.”
The House ultimately passed the bipartisan legislation without the support of almost 100 Democrats. Outspoken progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were infuriated by the process, which they argued failed to leverage Democratic power to strengthen the bill.
While Jayapal blamed Senate Democrats — the majority of whom voted for the bill — she said Friday that she’d since had a “very good conversation” with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and that there would be more communication between House progressives and senators in the future.
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Merkley, who introduced a bill this week that would end migrant family separations and improve health and safety standards for detainees, said he considers the migrant detention facilities “internment camps,” but wouldn’t use the term “concentration camp,” which Ocasio-Cortez has controversially used to describe the facilities.
“What we are seeing in these child prisons is horrific … I’ve referred to them as prisons, I think that’s accurate. I’ve referred to the family prisons as internment camps because to me they closely resemble the Japanese-American internment camps,” he told INSIDER in an interview on Friday. “I’ll leave it to others to use other terminology.”
Tensions are running high in the Democratic caucus this week after several progressive freshmen lawmakers, including Ocasio-Cortez, clapped back at Pelosi, who made comments recently about a quartet of new lawmakers.
“All of these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelositold The New York Times last week. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Ocasio-Cortez accused Pelosi of “singling out … newly elected women of color.”
Jayapal defended Pelosi on Friday from the suggestion that she treats women of color differently than other members, but conceded that the speaker’s comments weren’t “helpful.”
“I think what Pelosi was talking about was that if you only have four votes in the House, you can’t get what you want done,” Jayapal said. “I don’t typically find Pelosi to be somebody who disrespects members. I’ve never felt disrespected as a woman of color by Nancy Pelosi.”
Both Merkley and Jayapal are adamant that the House should move forward with an impeachment investigation into the president — something Pelosi has refused to do. Jayapal argued that it’s dangerous for Democrats to avoid impeachment for political reasons.
Protesters march outside the Netroots Nation conference in Philadelphia on Friday.Eliza Relman/Business Insider
But she insisted that in order for progressive Democrats to push Pelosi to support impeachment, single-payer healthcare, and the Green New Deal, the party has to build more electoral power. She noted that just 40% of House Democrats are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which Jayapal co-chairs.
“Nancy Pelosi is a vote-counter, if nothing else — she’s a master strategist,” Jayapal told the Netroots crowd. “She’s not going to go there unless we are able to build the pressure for it.”
The annual conference attracts a few thousand progressive activists, including Democratic candidates and lawmakers. The three-day event will culminate on Saturday with a presidential candidate forum featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Notably, Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders are not attending the conference, which both have attended in the past. The other 2020 heavyweights, including Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, chose to campaign this weekend rather than attend the events — a move that’s frustrated the organizers.
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