Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol May 12, 2022 in Washington, DC.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her support for anti-abortion Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar during a press briefing on Thursday, even as the Supreme Court prepares to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion and Cuellar faces a runoff with staunchly pro-choice challenger Jessica Cisneros later this month.
Pelosi on Thursday decried Senate Republicans for “lining up in lockstep behind Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump” in voting against the Women’s Health Protection Act Wednesday. “Every day Republicans show their intention to punish and control women’s most personal health and reproductive decisions,” Pelosi said. (Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who wrongly characterized the bill as going beyond codifying Roe v. Wade, joined Republicans in voting against the legislation.)
Just minutes later, however, Pelosi defended her support of Cuellar, who voted against the same bill. (Pelosi also donated $4,000 to Cuellar’s campaign in December.)
“I’m supporting Henry Cuellar, he’s a valued member of our caucus,” Pelosi said. “He is not pro-choice, but we didn’t need him, we passed the [Women’s Health Protection Act].”
Pelosi added that the current Congress was “one of the first we’ve had with a Democratic president with a pro-choice Congress.” But that Congress has still not passed a law even symbollically protecting a right to abortion.
Cuellar came out in opposition to Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade while reiterating his opposition to abortion. A new pro-Cuellar ad from the Mainstream Democrats PAC says “women’s rights are under attack” and said Cuellar “has made it clear he opposes a ban on abortion.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, House Majority Whip and the #3 Democrat in the House, campaigned with Cuellar in San Antonio last week. “I don’t believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party,” Clyburn said at the event. “I think we have to bring as many people into the party as we possibly can.”
Pelosi also addressed the FBI raid on Cuellar’s home and office earlier this year, claiming that the FBI said Cuellar wasn’t the target of an investigation into ties between Azerbaijan and American businessmen. Cuellar’s lawyer said last month that the FBI informed him Cuellar wasn’t the target of the investigation. (The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.)
Cisneros and Cuellar are facing off in a runoff election on May 24, after neither received 50 percent of the vote during a March primary. (A third candidate, Tannya Benavides, received nearly 5 percent of the vote.)
A progressive who’s backers include Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as several left-leaning House Democrats, Cisneros told VICE News last week that Pelosi and the Democratic leadership’s support for Cuellar was “frustrating.”
“I think it’s just a lot of cognitive dissonance,” Cisneros said. “It’s confusing a lot of people, because their words aren’t matching their actions.”
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