WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don't talk to each other much. But lately they're speaking at each other in a way that threatens Democratic unity and underscores broader tensions reshaping their party.
Pelosi chided AOC, as she's called, in a newspaper interview, and the first-term New York congresswoman responded pointedly on Twitter. Their power struggle has spilled over in what could be a momentary blip or a foreshadowing of divisions to come.
"I have no regrets about anything. Regrets is not what I do," Pelosi told reporters Wednesday while leaving a closed-door meeting of House Democrats.
Yet inside that lengthy session, Pelosi, D-Calif., also struck a more measured tone. She reminded lawmakers that their unity as the House majority is their power, especially as they confront Republicans, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"Without that unity, we are playing completely into the hands of the other people," Pelosi said, according to a person who was in the meeting room but was not authorized to talk publicly about the internal discussion.
"We're a family and we have our moments," Pelosi told colleagues. "So, again, 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 added: "Make me the target ... because we have important fish to fry."
Ocasio-Cortez arrived late to the session and did not speak, according to a second person who attended the session.
Other lawmakers, including some first-term members who helped flip Republican seats to the Democratic column in 2018, also made the case for playing on the same team and keeping the internal drama private.
It all started with the rare public rebuke between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, played out in the media, that's now challenging the House agenda and rippling into the 2020 presidential campaign. A test will come later this week on a must-pass defense bill that the White House has threatened to veto.
The tension between the most powerful Democrat in the country and one of the party's newest, most liberal members embodies a debate over how best, in style and substance, to defeat President Donald Trump. Each side think it's right.
For Pelosi allies, her offhand dismissal of Ocasio-Cortez and three other liberal first-term lawmakers who opposed a border security package last month was a necessary comeuppance for "the squad" of newcomers who are trying to push the party leftward.
"These people have their public whatever and their Twitter world," Pelosi told The New York Times. "But they didn't have any following."
In the speaker's world, they lack what Pelosi often calls "the currency of the realm" - the power to turn their high-volume activism into a coalition of votes to pass legislation or, in their case, to stop it.
But for fans of Ocasio-Cortez, including some of her millions of social media followers, Pelosi's remarks were nothing short of a patronizing slap-back to four women of color who represent the future of the Democratic Party, and a stark example of its generational and demographic transition. Their four lonely votes against the bill were portrayed as a principled stand, with more to come.
"To dismiss any member's force, and particularly these four members who do have a tremendous following in the progressive base, I think is not the best thing," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The ability to channel the influence of the newcomers into the currency of Congress may determine whether the speaker, six months into her new majority, continues her steady leadership or loses her firm grip - especially with former special counsel Robert Mueller's expected testimony next week in a high-stakes hearing amid rising calls for Trump's impeachment.
When White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday mocked the "Major Meow Mashup" and "catfight" involving Pelosi and the foursome, several of them fired back.
"Remember that time your boss tore babies from their mothers' arms and threw them in cages?" Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted at Conway. "Yeah take a seat and keep my name out of your lying mouth."
Behind the scenes, though, some on Capitol Hill were quietly appreciative of Pelosi's tough-love approach to Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
Lawmakers and freshmen from more centrist-leaning districts, including regions Trump won in 2018, don't want the House majority to be defined by the liberal flank as they face voters for reelection next year. They prefer the party hew to Pelosi's center-left approach.
While those more moderate views may have helped Democrats win the majority, liberal activists fear they won't necessarily motivate or energize the party ahead of the 2020 election.
Brian Fallon, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Pelosi's comments have riled the party's left flank, and activists question why she's fighting with the newcomers when she should be confronting, if not impeaching, Trump.
Pelosi's background runs strong in the liberal community, he said, so "it's not enough to undo the relationship because she has deep ties, she knows how to count votes and is a badass."
"But there is frustration," he said.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to this report.