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Ayanna Pressley, fellow House Democrats who tangled with Pelosi not backing down

Representative Ayanna Pressley.
Representative Ayanna Pressley.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

PHILADELPHIA — Days after tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boiled over publicly, several House Democrats sent a message to Washington: We’re not backing down.

Three members of the ‘‘squad’’ — the cadre of liberal freshman lawmakers who are struggling with their party’s more centrist members over impeachment, immigration, and other issues — defended their approach Saturday while appearing on a panel at the annual Netroots conference. All are young women of color, a fact not lost on supporters who have bridled at the criticism thrown their way.

‘‘We never need to ask for permission or wait for an invitation to lead,’’ Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said when asked what she would say to women of color who are frustrated or hurt by comments that seek to minimize their impact or vilify them. She said later that there’s a ‘‘constant struggle oftentimes with people who have power about sharing that power.’’

Omar added: ‘‘We are not really in the business of asking for the share of that power. We’re in the business of trying to grab that power and return it to the people.’’

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Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan joined Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., on the Netroots panel. The ‘‘squad’’ member with the highest profile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., did not attend.

‘‘I think you have to be unapologetically you,’’ Tlaib said. ‘‘Sometimes that means — I know for me and a number of my sisters, we represent our districts and we focus on the things that matter in our districts and to bring them into this space. And that does sometimes — that does mean I have to vote no on detaining children at the border.’’

Infighting between liberal and centrist House Democrats was highlighted last week by Pelosi’s seemingly dismissive words aimed at the freshmen. Pelosi told The New York Times that ‘‘they’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got,’’ a remark that brought criticism that Pelosi was marginalizing women of color.

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‘‘The women of color who have entered Congress, they’re more than four votes,’’ said Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People and the panel’s moderator. ‘‘For millions of us, these women of color in Congress represent generations of blood, sweat and tears and struggle.’’

Pelosi has cast the sniping among House Democrats as a threat to achieving common goals, one of them to defeat Trump’s bid for reelection. Ocasio-Cortez has complained about the consolidation of power in Congress and wants Democrats to be bold about their priorities.

Pressley quoted the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s feminist mantra in saying that rather than bringing her own chair to the proverbial table, ‘‘this is the time to shake the table, this is the time to redefine that table.’’ Chisholm was a pioneering African American who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

‘‘Moving forward, I’m just appealing to all of you to recognize that our destinies and our freedoms are tied. Please do not feed any scarcity mindset,’’ Pressley said. ‘‘Now is not the time to be territorial about oppression and trauma. Because this is a coordinated systemic attack and we are all losing.’’

Illustrating the divide between Pelosi’s supporters and those of the Democratic House freshmen, a group of progressive organizations issued a statement saying they were concerned that senior Democratic Party leaders and their aides ‘‘have been escalating attacks on new leaders in the party who have been rightfully advocating a stronger approach to holding the Trump administration accountable to human rights abuses being committed on the border and against immigrants.’’

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‘‘With ICE raids occurring this weekend, deaths of children at the border camps, and a continued blank check for the administration’s racist deportation machine, we will be focusing on the real crisis at hand and we urge Democratic leadership to do so as well,’’ the statement said. ‘‘Democratic leaders must fight to close the camps and hold ICE and CBP accountable.’’