As Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat from Texas, declared victory in a race that was otherwise deemed too close to call, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) rebuked top Democrats for supporting the candidate over progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.
Cuellar claimed he won with a margin of 177 votes around midnight on Tuesday, but no major news organizations have called the race yet. The race is close enough for Cisneros to request a recount, and there are still mail-in ballots that haven’t been counted.
Though Cuellar has won over Cisneros before in 2020, Cuellar’s campaign is weaker this time around. He is the only anti-abortion Democrat in the House, and his house and office were raided in January as part of a federal investigation potentially involving questions over his ties with Azerbaijan, though he has denied the link. He is also the only Democrat in the House with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“On the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a Twitter thread on Tuesday night, referencing the devastating school shooting in Texas. “Accountability isn’t partisan. This was an utter failure of leadership.”
Ocasio-Cortez continued, saying that “Congress should not be an incumbent protection racket,” and that “those who fail their communities deserve to lose.” She said that, if Cuellar does eventually win in a close race, “leadership’s decision to go to the mat for a pro-NRA incumbent will be the reason why.”
Although Cuellar stood in stark opposition to abortion access — one of voters’ top priorities in this fall’s midterm elections — he still had the unflinching support of top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Maryland) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (South Carolina).
“The last time leadership waded in to save [Cuellar], he thanked them by obstructing the party’s signature legislation, paving the way for the child tax credit to collapse and imperiling millions while taking a victory lap for it,” Ocasio-Cortez concluded, referring to Cuellar’s efforts to block Democrats’ Build Back Better Act last year. “We can’t afford to reward such acts. We can do better.”
Unlike many Democrats, the Texas representative also holds anti-immigration stances; in an interview with Fox News in April, he complained that the White House was “listening to immigration activists” on the issue of repealing Title 42, a Trump-era order that both Biden and Trump have invoked to deport around 2 million asylum seekers under the pretext of protecting public health. Cuellar’s conservatism led Cisneros, an immigration lawyer, to label him as the “[Sen.] Joe Manchin of the House” on the campaign trail.
Democrats also demonstrated their support for the conservative wing of their party in a similar race in Oregon, in which President Joe Biden endorsed conservative Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader, who worked to destroy Biden’s agenda in Congress last year.
Cisneros, by contrast, ran on a strictly pro-abortion platform with support for key progressive issues like Medicare for All. Top progressives in Congress like Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) broke with the party to endorse Cisneros.