'She is not a racist': Trump sides with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in spat with progressives

Michael Collins and David Jackson

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has an unlikely defender: President Donald Trump.

Trump stuck up for Pelosi on Friday after freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York ramped up her criticism of the Democratic speaker.

Ocasio-Cortez accused Pelosi earlier this week of singling out “newly elected women of color” for criticism. Ocasio-Cortez’s comments and an earlier tweet by her chief of staff injected the possibility of racism into an ongoing spat between Pelosi and the progressive wing of the House Democratic Caucus.

Trump, who has had more than his own share of run-ins with Pelosi, came to her defense.

"I'll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do: She is not a racist,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before departing for a trip to Wisconsin and Ohio.

Trump slammed Ocasio-Cortez for being “very disrespectful” to Pelosi. He added, “For them to call her a racist is a disgrace.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump.

The conflict between Pelosi and the progressive wing of her caucus stems from a debate over a spending package for humanitarian relief on the southern U.S. border.  

Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats had wanted to add stronger protections for migrants in the initial House draft of the bill. Pelosi later caved to Republicans and allowed the House to pass the Senate version of the bill, which lacked many of the protections progressive Democrats had sought.

More: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib fire back at Nancy Pelosi's 'Twitter world' quip

Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti took to Twitter and complained that Democrats were propping up a broken system that “fuels a racist ideology.”

The spat escalated when Pelosi, in an interview with The New York Times, responded to opposition about the bill by Ocasio-Cortez and freshman Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

“They’re just four people,” she said of the freshmen lawmakers.

Ocasio-Cortez fired back, calling Pelosi’s comments “just outright disrespectful” in an interview with The Washington Post and complained about “the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”

Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent and Pressley is African American. Omar is a Somali immigrant, while Tlaib is Palestinian American.

Trump's defense of Pelosi comes as he himself is feuding with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who, according to excerpts from an upcoming book, said Trump didn't know "anything about government."

Trump responded with a series of insults on Twitter in which he called Ryan "a long running lame duck failure" and said his record was "atrocious."

Contributing: Nicholas Wu

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump defends Nancy Pelosi, saying House speaker is 'not a racist'