After a summer spent defending himself against criticism from Democratic colleagues, Rep. Henry Cuellar was defiant Wednesday when his party affiliation was called into question.
"I'm a Democrat, and I will die as a Democrat," the Texas lawmaker told Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith in an interview.
During an interview conducted before an audience at the University of Texas's San Antonio campus, Smith was asking Cuellar specifically about his collaboration with Republicans during the debate on legislation to address the child migrant crisis at the southwest border. Cuellar — a fiscally conservative Blue Dog who boasts an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association and opposes abortion — took a position on how to stem the surge of unaccompanied minors that was shared by Republicans and put him at odds with Democrats. At one point, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman and fellow Texas Democrat Rubén Hinojosa lashed out , saying Cuellar, also a CHC member, did not represent the caucus and never even came to meetings. The House broke for August recess with Cuellar casting the lone Democratic vote for a border funding bill that will never become law.
Why wouldn't Cuellar just switch parties if he was going to side with Republicans, Smith asked?
"The thing is, if a person, an elected official, puts party before their country or their state, it's wrong," Cuellar replied. "We're certainly seeing that in Washington, where party comes first, and if you're not loyal to the party, there's something wrong with you. The easy for thing for me is to always go along with the Democratic Party, but that would not serve my state and that would not serve the district itself."
Cuellar also argued that just because he doesn't always vote with his party, doesn't mean he isn't a team player.
"The ones that yell the loudest are not the ones that do the most for the party," he said. "I'll say this: I'm the first Democrat that pays my dues [to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. ... I pay more than anybody, any other Democrat, congressional member, in the state of Texas. I've done that for the last couple of years."
It's true that Cuellar, according to the most recent dues report obtained by CQ Roll Call, paid more to the DCCC than any other Democrat in the delegation as of August. He exceeded his contribution goal of $300,000 by $25,000 and has almost reached his $500,000 DCCC fundraising goal (he has currently raised $496,753).
"I don't go around and say, 'I give more money than anybody,' but I support my party," Cuellar continued. "If you are going to have a litmus test — out of 100 votes, you support your party and that makes you a good member of Congress? I think that's the wrong litmus test. What's good for America and what's good for Texas, that should be the litmus test."
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