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SAN ANTONIO — The No. 3 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives was blamed for a raging national storm over abortion rights on Wednesday as he traveled to Texas to campaign with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a rare Democrat who opposes the practice, in his hotly contested primary runoff.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s trip was announced more than a week ago, but it fell two days after Politico released a leaked draft opinion from the US Supreme Court that favors the cancellation of Roe c. Wade. The timing of the news cast an uncomfortable spotlight on Cuellar — and senior Democrats who support him — as he was the only House Democrat last year to vote against a proposed codification of Roe v. Wade.
As Clyburn traveled to Texas on Wednesday morning, Cuellar’s progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros released a statement calling on Democratic House leadership to rescind its support for Cuellar in light of the Roe v. Wade. But Clyburn was unswayed as he attended a series of events across town with the Laredo congressman, pointing out he didn’t always agree with Cuellar but thought opinions divergent views were healthy for democracy. In doing so, Clyburn sent a message that the Democratic Party should not shun opponents of abortion.
“We’re having a marquee party, and if we’re going to be a marquee party, we have to be a marquee party,” Clyburn told reporters after an evening gathering at an outdoor barbecue. “I don’t believe we should have a litmus test in the Democratic Party. I think we need to bring as many people as possible to the party.
Addressing a crowd of around 80 from the stage of his campaign rally, Clyburn praised Cuellar for his role as Deputy Chief Whip, saying together they had been “very effective in getting Joe Biden to victory. “. [agenda] across the finish line. He joked that he didn’t always agree with Cuellar, just like he didn’t always agree with his late wife of 58 years. But he said people don’t “grow up” if they only talk to those they agree with.
“We have to sit down with people we disagree with and try to find common ground so that you do what is necessary to keep this country moving forward,” Clyburn said.
Cuellar did not shy away from his party-dividing ways when addressing his supporters.
“I am a democrat – but I am the words of [Lyndon B. Johnson], who said many years ago, “I’m American, I’m Texan and then I’m Democrat – in that order,” Cuellar said. “If you put the party before your country, you are doing a disservice. I think what we need to do…is make sure we put our country, our district, first, and that’s what I’m doing.
Cuellar and Cisneros face off again after she ran against him for the first time in 2020 and lost by 4 percentage points in a head-to-head primary. This time, she forced him to a runoff after a primary that was canceled in January when the FBI raided Cuellar’s home in Laredo. The FBI did not say what it was investigating, and Cuellar denied any wrongdoing.
The runoff was relatively low-key until Monday’s announcement of the Supreme Court’s intentions, which prompted Democratic leaders to vow to hit back at Congress. But Cisneros and other progressives suggested those words were hollow if leaders continued to support Cuellar.
Cuellar has the support of not only Clyburn, but also House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House’s No. 2 Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Their names and others were featured prominently on campaign materials distributed at the rally.
“With the majority of the House at stake, [Cuellar] could very well be the deciding vote on the future of our reproductive rights and we cannot afford to take that risk,” Cisneros said in his statement. “I hope the leadership of the Democratic Party will not stand in the way of service delivery to South Texans.”
Asked about the opinion leaked by the High Court after the rally, Cuellar reiterated a statement he issued on Tuesday evening. He criticized the draft notice, saying it is “not based on precedent” and “not progressive in nature as they should be”. But he told reporters he was Catholic and “you know my position”, adding that many people in his district believe in “at least some sort of limitation of the exception”.
After the rally, attendees said they supported Cuellar, often offering enthusiastic praise and recalling a long relationship with him, but made it clear they disagreed with him on abortion.
JoAnn Ramon, a 78-year-old party activist who said she has known Cuellar since he served in the State House, adamantly said she would disagree with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“I’ve never had an abortion, I’ll never have an abortion, none of my children have – thank God none of my grandchildren – but I don’t tell people what to do about it. their body,” she said. “So no, I’m not pro-abortion – I’m pro-choice and Henry isn’t, and that’s okay. I’m Catholic too. Henry and I can agree to disagree. That’s the beauty by Henry Cuellar.
State Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins of San Antonio, a Cuellar endorser who spoke at the rally, also said her views on abortion did not match Cuellar’s. But she said she understands that belief was based on her Catholic faith.
“I’m pro-choice all the way, okay? But that’s a problem,” she said. That one question doesn’t stop me from supporting anyone in my party because we can agree to disagree, and I hope that we as Texans and us as Americans will really start to see it that way. A problem does not prevent us from having a relationship.
The rally was part of several events organized by Clyburn with Cuellar on Wednesday in San Antonio. Earlier in the day, they attended a private meeting with church leaders on the east side of San Antonio and after the rally, Clyburn was to headline a fundraiser for Cuellar.
Regardless of who wins the runoff, Republicans believe they have a chance to topple the district as they strive to make further inroads into South Texas. They are currently in a runoff for the seat, although the national GOP has allied itself behind Cassy Garcia, a former staffer of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
In defending his campaign for Cuellar, Clyburn nodded to the possibility of a competitive general election.
“I would ask anyone, which is more important – to have a pro-life Democrat or to have an anti-abortion Republican?” said Clyburn. “Because in November, that could very well be the choice in this neighborhood.”
Disclosure: Politico was a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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