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Jayapal Breaks With Top Dems, Endorses Cisneros Against Anti-Abortion Incumbent

The Congressional Progressive Caucus chair cited the urgency of backing candidates who will defend abortion rights.

Democratic candidate Jessica Cisneros speaks at a watch party on March 1, 2022, in Laredo, Texas.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, broke with the House Democratic leadership on Thursday and endorsed Jessica Cisneros, a human rights attorney looking to unseat anti-abortion Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’ 28th District.

“At a time when our reproductive freedoms are under attack by an extremist Supreme Court, we must elect pro-choice candidates that will fight to make sure abortion remains the law of the land,” Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement to Politico just days out from next Tuesday’s primary runoff.

“I don’t make the decision to endorse an opponent to a colleague in my caucus lightly,” Jayapal added, noting that it’s atypical for a sitting member of Congress to endorse primary challenges against incumbents in their party — though a number of prominent lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have also endorsed Cisneros.

“However,” Jayapal continued, “the freedom for people to make choices about our own bodies is at stake, and I simply cannot stand by when there is a strong pro-choice, pro-worker Democrat ready to step in.”

Cisneros, an outspoken supporter of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other top progressive priorities, fell just shy of defeating Cuellar in 2020, and she forced a runoff with the right-wing Democrat in the first round of voting earlier this year.

Despite Cuellar’s steadfast opposition to abortion rights, climate action, and other key elements of his party’s agenda, the top three Democrats in the House — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.) — have endorsed the corporate-funded incumbent’s reelection bid and campaigned on his behalf in the final stretch of the race.

“Pelosi has endorsed me. Steny has endorsed me. Clyburn has endorsed me,” Cuellar bragged during a recent campaign rally.

A number of political vendors approved by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the campaign arm of House Democrats — are also working to reelect Cuellar as the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks, potentially paving the way for a nationwide abortion ban.

Earlier this month, Cisneros called on the House Democratic leadership to drop its support for Cuellar, declaring that “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.”

“On May 24th, we will defeat the last anti-choice Democrat and South Texas will finally have a representative in their corner that will fight for their healthcare and freedom,” Cisneros said in a statement. “I hope Democratic Party leadership won’t stand in the way of delivering for South Texans. I am ready to work with them to deliver on the Democratic agenda.”

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