The highly public rift between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a clutch of freshmen congresswomen led by Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has spilled into the 2020 Democratic presidential contest.
The intramural conflict is threatening to overshadow President Donald Trump's history of race-baiting.
Seizing an opportunity to rile his opponents, Mr Trump yesterday offered a finger-wagging rebuke to Ms Ocasio-Cortez and a defense of Ms Pelosi.
'She is not a racist,' he said of the speaker,
who rarely hides her contempt
for the president and certainly was not seeking his support.
Mr Trump has portrayed Muslims and Mexican immigrants as dangerous and failed to fully condemn white supremacists.
But while many Democrats had hoped to use the president's history on race against him, the party's 2020 hopefuls are finding they first need to reconcile the matter internally.
Former Vice President Joe Biden cited Mr Trump's tacit support for white supremacists as the primary motivation for his White House bid.
Yet Mr Biden has struggled in recent weeks to explain his own record on race, including his work with segregationist lawmakers in the early 1970s, support for a crime bill that disproportionately hurt minorities and racially insensitive comments about school desegregation decades ago.
In the first Democratic presidential debate last month,
California Sen Kamala Harris skewered Mr Biden's record on race
, and his support in public polls has declined since.
Now that debate is also playing out on Capitol Hill in the feud between two prominent congresswomen: Ms Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in Washington, and Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old self-described democratic socialist who is one of four members of a high-profile 'squad' of newly elected women of colour.
Ms Pelosi sought to minimise Ms Ocasio-Cortez's influence in recent days, while Ms Ocasio-Cortez called the speaker 'disrespectful' and accused her of marginalising women of colour.
The friction has forced the party's presidential candidates to weigh in. And so far, no one wants to pick sides.
How other Democrats have responded
described Ms Ocasio-Cortez as 'bold and smart as anything' but declined to criticise Ms Pelosi in an interview yesterday with The Breakfast Club, a New York-based radio show.
'She's not going to go with status quo because that's the way it's always been done, she questions it. I think that's healthy,' Ms Harris said of Ms Ocasio-Cortez.
'I think that when you have anyone who is as smart and as bold as her questioning the system and doing it in such an effective way, it can throw people off their game.'
Ms Harris also disputed Ms Ocasio-Cortez' criticism of Ms Pelosi: 'I've known her to be very respectful of women of colour and very supportive of them. So I have a different experience'.
Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
, who has struggled to attract minority support early in his underdog presidential bid, was even more cautious when asked to address the rift as he campaigned yesterday in New Hampshire.
'I'm not going to pick sides in a House caucus tussle,' he said.
'What I will say is that the diversity of opinions in the party right now is pretty healthy.
'And one of the best ways that we hash out what we believe as a party is through something like a Democratic primary nominating process for the presidency.'
The fight within the party could limit the efforts to highlight Mr Trump's hardline rhetoric and policies on race and immigration.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019