Why do party leaders still support Henry Cuellar as a Democrat?
When the United States House of Representatives voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act on Friday – in response to attacks on reproductive rights like the Texas law that bans abortion before many people know it they are pregnant – the partisan divide was evident. The bill passed 218-211, with every “yes” coming from Democrats and 210 “no” coming from Republicans.
But where does the 211st vote come from? Meet US Representative Henry Cuellar, the political careerist from Texas who is a miserable excuse for a Democrat in the House.
Cuellar did not explain his vote. But the challenger who nearly beat him in the 2020 primary, and who shows up again hoping to topple the Texan next year, got right to the point.
“Once again, Henry Cuellar has refused to defend the reproductive freedom of South Texans and he has chosen to stand with his Republican allies and turn his back on South Texan families and our health care.” Jessica Cisneros said in a statement. video statement on Twitter. “Even after our state’s Republican leaders just passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban – virtually ending all access to abortion in Texas – our congressman refuses to stand up for our reproductive rights.
In her main challenge launched in 2020 to the incumbent, the lawyer in immigration and human rights law won more than 48% of the votes. Cisneros found himself within 2,700 ballots from Cuellar, a South Texas political staple who won his first election in 1986.
The main contest two years ago in Texas’ 28th historically Democratic District was one of many Democratic Party soul fights that have taken place across the country in recent years. And the 2022 competition in the neighborhood along the US-Mexico border promises to be even more intense.
Cuellar, a prodigious fundraiser from corporate-related special interests that has raised more than $ 16.5 million in two decades of campaigning in Congress, already has $ 1.7 million in cash for the next one. race. As always, it rakes in money from the fossil fuel industries and lobbyists. He even cashed in $ 5,000 from the Koch Industries Political Action Committee, which has long been the main vehicle for political intervention by the billionaire Koch brothers.
Charles Koch and his late brother David have become infamous for their support of right-wing Republicans, such as former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other conservative enemies of labor, civil and reproductive rights. But why does a Democrat take money from Koch? Cuellar is not just a social conservative who breaks with his party to vote against measures like the law on the protection of women’s health; he is a full spectrum corporatist who often sides with big business against the interests of working class Texans.
As the Texas Watcher noted several years ago: “In his nearly 35 years as a politician, Henry Cuellar has managed to piss off just about every part of the Democratic coalition. He’s a pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-union hawk who rarely lived up to a rule he wouldn’t dump or a Republican he wouldn’t work with.
Sometimes referred to as “Trump’s favorite Democrat” and known as the Democrat President George W. Bush warmly embraced after his 2006 State of the Union address, Cuellar got on so well with the former governor. Republican (and future Trump administration energy secretary) Rick Perry whom Perry once appointed Cuellar as Texas secretary of state.
For years, Democratic House leaders endured Cuellar’s atrocious voting record and even more insidious behind-the-scenes maneuvers on behalf of corporate donors, as they imagined he was unbeatable in a district that cartographers Texas Republicans had sculpted with him in As recently as 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared alongside him in Laredo ahead of the primary, calling on voters to win another “resounding victory for Henry Cuellar “.
Responding to Pelosi’s approval of his opponent, Cisneros told the Texas Tribune, “We know what she sees as her role, which is to protect the incumbents and expand the majority.”
Throughout his campaign, Cisneros challenged conventional wisdom, as well as democratic complacency, with his message stating that a district in which about a quarter of families live in poverty was poorly served by a congressman who voted against workers’ rights, environmental protections and healthcare for all. While garnering nationwide approvals from Emily’s List, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cisneros remained focused on mounting a popular offer in a District of 9 000 square miles where many voters live in rural areas. She didn’t win, but she certainly proved Cuellar to be vulnerable.
Indeed, known as AOC, “she got closer than anyone imagined.”
Tight contests and challenges often cause House members to change their minds.
But anyone who thought Cuellar would change course was disillusioned with the notion just days after the new Congress was seated. The Texan has broken up with his fellow Democrats in the House to vote against the Law on the Protection of the Right to Organize (PRO), the top priority of organized work. Why? Because he said he didn’t want to undermine anti-worker “right to work” laws, which historians have noted were first implemented by segregationists in states like Texas in the 1940s.
Behind the scenes, Cuellar was doing even more damage, using his position on the powerful House Democratic Policy and Steering Committee, the body that oversees the committees’ missions, to block Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to secure a spot. to the Energy and Trade Committee. Despite the fact that the AOC had the backing of key Democrats such as Judicial Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (DN.Y.) York, Kathleen Rice, in the seat the AOC would have occupied. Rice quickly used the seat to vote against the Democratic proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.
Then came Cuellar’s vote against abortion rights, a hot issue in Texas and nationally.
South Texas has its share of socially conservative Democrats. But Cisneros is betting the GOP’s assault on abortion rights in the state and nationwide will energize voters, as she rides her second race against Cuellar. As she said, “With the future of Roe vs. Wade Undoubtedly at stake, it is inconceivable that Henry Cuellar would stand in the way of protecting and expanding access to health care. Now more than ever, we need representatives in Congress who will be unabashedly pro-choice. ”
The question now is whether Pelosi and other leading Democrats who have covered Cuellar for too long will finally recognize that he is only Democrat in name.