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Top Dem Endorses Anti-Abortion Rep. Cuellar Over Progressive Challenger

  • Top Democrats are standing by anti-abortion Rep. Henry Cuellar even as Roe v. Wade could be overturned.
  • “Well, we’re a diverse party. We have diverse opinions,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
  • Cuellar’s progressive opponent, Jessica Cisneros, has called on Democrats to drop their support for him.

As the Supreme Court appears likely to overturn Roe v. Wade and revoke the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973, Democrats are sounding the alarm and warning of the dire consequences that could follow the ruling.

But top Democrats are continuing to stand by anti-abortion rights Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas as he faces a primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros, a pro-abortion rights progressive immigration lawyer, in Texas’s 28th congressional district.

“Well, we’re a diverse party. We have diverse opinions,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer when Insider asked about his support for Cuellar on Wednesday. “Our platform says that we’re pro-choice party, and we are pro-choice party. That does not mean that there’s not room in our party for alternative voices.”

Hoyer added that he believes Cuellar — who holds conservative positions on issues like gun rights, immigration, and marijuana legalization — has “represented his district well, his state well” and, said he believes the nine-term Texas congressman is a “valuable member of our Congress.”

Meanwhile, when Insider asked House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York how he defends his support for Cuellar before progressives and abortion rights advocates, he side-stepped the question.

“I have a 100% record when it comes to supporting reproductive freedom, going all the way back to my time in the legislature,” he said. “I’ve served in public office for 16 years. My record speaks for itself.”

Cuellar is also backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. Pelosi told reporters in March that she’s standing by Cuellar because she supports her incumbent members, and Clyburn campaigned with Cuellar in San Antonio last week, just two days after the leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion indicating that Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned.

“We have a big-tent party, and if we’re gonna be a big-tent party, we got to be a big-tent party,” Clyburn told reporters at a campaign event with Cuellar. “I don’t believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party. I think we have to bring as many people into the party as we possibly can.”

Cuellar was the only House Democrat to vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act — which would codify abortion rights into federal law — when the House first passed the bill in September. The Senate will vote on that same bill on Wednesday, though it’s expected to fail due to the opposition of Senate Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Following the draft opinion leak, Cuellar issued a statement condemning the ruling, saying it will “further divide the country” while highlighting his support for exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother.

But he also re-affirmed his anti-abortion rights stance, stating that “as a Catholic, I do not support abortion” while condemning “extreme positions such as late term or partial birth abortions.”


Meanwhile Cisneros — backed by progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — has called on top Democrats to drop their support for Cuellar in light of the possible revocation of abortion rights.

“With the House majority on the line, he could very much be the deciding vote on the future of our reproductive rights and we cannot afford to take that risk,” she said in a statement last week.

Cuellar has also come under unrelated scrutiny. The congressman’s home and campaign office were raided by the FBI in January amid a federal investigation that may bear on his ties to the post-Soviet state of Azerbaijan. While his lawyer recently said that the congressman is not the target of the investigation, Cuellar declined to say why he’d been the subject of a raid when asked on Fox News Sunday in April.

“I have deep respect for law enforcement,” he said. “We will cooperate with law enforcement when they ask us to do that.”

Cisneros trailed the 9-term congressman by just over 1,000 votes in the March primary election. The two are now competing in a run-off election on May 24.

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