Jessica Cisneros, a progressive attorney challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), on Wednesday called on members of Democratic Party congressional leadership to withdraw their support for Cuellar, the last abortion rights opponent in the House Democratic Caucus.
Cisneros seized on Monday night’s revelation that the Supreme Court plans to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a federal right to abortions as a reason for House Democratic leaders, nearly all of whom are backing Cuellar, to reconsider their endorsement.
“At every turn, my Congressman has stood in opposition to the Democratic Party agenda from being anti-union to being anti-choice,” Cisneros said in a statement that she repeated in a video posted to social media. “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.”
“I hope Democratic Party leadership won’t stand in the way of delivering for South Texans,” she added. “I am ready to work with them to deliver on the Democratic agenda.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and House Democratic Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have all endorsed Cuellar. Clyburn is even slated to headline a rally for Cuellar in San Antonio on Wednesday.
HuffPost reached out to the offices of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn for their responses to Cisneros’ request.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, only Hoyer’s office has provided a response.
“House Democrats passed the Women’s Health Protection Act in September of last year to codify Roe and protect abortion rights,” Margaret Mulkerrin, a spokesperson for Hoyer, said in a statement. “The Senate must now pass it and send it to the President to sign.”
The scenario that Cisneros paints, in which Cuellar would be the deciding vote on a law to codify abortion rights, is not implausible if Democrats retain their majority in the House in November but that majority shrinks to a one-vote margin.
In the current Congress, however, as Hoyer’s office notes, the House already passed legislation codifying abortion rights in September, despite Cuellar’s lone Democratic “no” vote. Democrats’ paper-thin majority in the Senate, where the filibuster prevents them from passing the bill with a simple majority, has thus far prevented that bill from becoming law.
In addition, Democrats need to hold Texas’ 28th Congressional District to maintain their majority in the House, and Cuellar has made the case that only a socially conservative Democrat like him is capable of doing that. Like many predominantly Latino seats in South Texas, the district shifted significantly toward then-President Donald Trump in 2020. Although Hillary Clinton carried the seat by nearly 20 percentage points, President Joe Biden won there by just four percentage points.
Cisneros’ appeal is nonetheless part of a broader call by progressives for Democratic leaders to take dramatic steps to affirm their commitment to women’s reproductive rights in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court news. In addition to her statement on Wednesday, she and Justice Democrats, the left-leaning group supporting her, have sent out multiple email fundraising appeals soliciting help defeating “the last anti-choice Democrat in Congress.”
Cisneros, who is challenging Cuellar for the Democratic nomination in Texas’ 28th for the second cycle in a row, trailed him by two percentage points during the first round of their rematch in March. The presence of a third candidate prevented Cuellar from obtaining an outright majority, prompting a runoff contest between Cuellar and Cisneros on May 24.
There are precious few other cases in which stances on abortion rights are a point of contrast between Democratic candidates in competitive primaries. In North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, former state Sen. Erica Smith has the support of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America in her race against state Sen. Don Davis.
Davis has taken some votes that undermined abortion rights in North Carolina, but insists he supports the fundamental right to an abortion and condemned the leaked news of the Supreme Court’s pending decision to overturn Roe.
Smith still hopes that the news will give her an edge in the May 17 primary. She received the most donations on Tuesday of any day of her campaign, according to spokesperson Morris Katz.