Nancy Pelosi Endorses NRA-Backed Texas Incumbent Against Progressive Democratic Challenger

Progressive Democrats are criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for endorsing a conservative Democratic Texas incumbent with anti-abortion and pro-NRA stances.

Speaking Saturday at The Texas Tribune Festival, Pelosi embraced a "friendly incumbent rule" heading into the 2020 elections and said she will endorse all current members of Congress against Democratic primary challengers. Pelosi agreed to endorse 28th Congressional District Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is facing a challenger from his left in 26-year-old immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar has faced criticism from national progressive groups including Justice Democrats, who have backed Cisneros' campaign due to Cuellar's friendly relationship with the National Rifle Association, as well as President Donald Trump.

Nancy Pelosi just endorsed a “Democrat” who is anti-choice and received an A rating from the NRA.

— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) September 30, 2019

The Justice Democrats group prominently pushed the election of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 and has repeatedly blasted Cuellar for blocking federal funds for abortion, labeling him "anti-choice."

Pelosi stressed that Democrats should focus on reelecting current members of Congress including U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston. She also was very positive about the chances of former Air Force Intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones winning Texas' 23rd District, after Will Hurd, the only black House Republican, recently declined to run for reelection.

"Will you have a friendly incumbent rule heading into this election cycle so that if any incumbent Democrat in your House is challenged in a primary you will default to endorsing the incumbent Democrat?" The Texas Tribune host asked Pelosi Saturday about the political tactic.

"That's...absolutely, that's the easiest question you could ask me," Pelosi replied with an incredulous tone.

"Okay, so Henry Cuellar is in the audience. Congressman Cuellar from Laredo is here and has a challenger in the primary; you are a Henry Cuellar endorsement?"

"Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely," Pelosi replied, prompting scattered boos and some applause from the audience. "I'm very proud of Henry's work in the Congress, and I'm proud to support him."

Cuellar has refused to give back nearly $7,000 in NRA Political Victory Fund donations to his campaign this past year despite criticism in the wake of gun massacres in El Paso, Dayton, Ohio and California. He has received several thousands of dollars in additional money from the gun-rights group since first being elected to Congress in 2005.

"Why would he do that?" Cuellar campaign spokesman Colin Strother told reporters earlier this year when asked if he would give the money back to the NRA. Strother cited Cuellar's support for expanding background checks and for legislation which would require federal agencies to report criminal convictions to state attorney generals.

Cuellar's 28th Congressional District, which spans from San Antonio to Mission, Texas, contains Sutherland Springs, where a 2017 church shooting left more than 20 people dead.

Running against Cuellar from the left is Democratic primary challenger and human rights attorney Jessica Cisneros. Her campaign has latched onto Cuellar's conservative stances, declaring earlier this year, "No one with an 'A' rating from the NRA deserves to call themselves a Democrat."

She has touted her progressive stance on immigration and has decried "cruel detainment policies" pushed by Trump and other conservative Washington lawmakers.

Cisneros' official campaign website and social media pages ridicule Cuellar, "It's time to elect a real Democrat who'll fight for all of us, not big corporate donors. Our district has voted 'Democrat' because we thought the Democrat would protect our rights and fight for our families. But Cuellar is not a Democrat. We need to elect a representative who is accountable to us -- not big corporate donors, lobbyists and Republicans."

Newsweek's requests for comment from Cisneros' campaign were not immediately returned Monday. Cuellar and Cisneros are set for their primary election showdown on March 3, 2020. The district has voted reliably blue since being created in 1993, the Laredo Morning Times notes.

In June, Democratic consultant Christian Archer told LMTOnline that liberals on the national level simply don't understand that residents of Texas' 28th congressional district are conservative and moderate Democrats.

"[Justice Democrats] probably don't know Laredo. ... These are farmers and ranchers, and people who grew up carrying a gun."

gambling odds Trump impeached
President Donald Trump confers with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) while departing the U.S. Capitol following a St. Patrick's Day celebration on March 14 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty