Congress

Democratic campaign chief cancels event for this anti-abortion Democrat

Rep. Cheri Bustos signaled she will continue to defend Rep. Dan Lipinski

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., is a first-term DCCC chairwoman. She withdrew from an event for Rep. Dan Lipinski, who is an anti-abortion Democrat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The congresswoman who leads House Democrats’ campaign arm announced Wednesday she would no longer headline a fundraiser for an anti-abortion incumbent congressman.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos agreed months ago to host a $1,000-per-plate breakfast fundraiser for Rep. Dan Lipinski because of their friendship, a spokesman for Lipinski said. But criticism of her support for Lipinski grew louder this month amid the passage of laws severely restricting abortion in six states.

[Abortion-rights groups lay out 2020 races they plan to target]

Critics included the Illinois congressman’s primary challenger, Marie Newman, who had described Bustos’ decision to headline the event as “shocking.” Newman came within 2 points of unseating Lipinski in the 2018 primary.  

“The day after Alabama voted to restrict a woman’s right to choose, it’s shocking the DCCC is fervently supporting a representative who is anti-choice, anti-birth control, and anti-health care for all,” Newman said in a tweet earlier this month. 

Bustos distanced herself from Lipinski’s record on abortion in a statement Wednesday announcing her decision to back out of the fundraiser.

“I’m proud to have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record and I’m deeply alarmed by the rapidly escalating attacks on women’s access to reproductive care in several states,” Bustos said. “This does not change how I will work as DCCC chair to protect our big-tent Democratic caucus.”

Newman said Monday she had spoken to Bustos about the DCCC backing Lipinski, a Washington Post story said.  Newman’s bid to oust Lipinski has garnered the support of EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Planned Parenthood’s political advocacy group applauded Bustos Thursday for canceling her appearance at the fundraiser.

[Legal battle heats up as more states test strict abortion bans]

“Being able to have control over your own body is a human right, and the Democratic platform is crystal clear about supporting people’s ability to access full sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion,” said Kelley Robinson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. 

The DCCC in March formalized a policy that freezes pollsters, communications specialists and other campaign consultants out of millions of dollars of contracts with the campaign committee if they agree to consult for candidates who challenge Democratic incumbents. 

Newman’s campaign was hurt by the new policy and saw four vendors pull back from her campaign. But blacklist backlash among progressives also directed more attention to the 3rd District race and generated an uptick in donations for Newman, according to media reports.

A ‘big tent’

Though Lipinski’s views appear to be out-of-step with his solidly blue district, he emphasized the need for a “big tent” Wednesday, the Post report said.

“That’s how we got President Trump. People felt like they weren’t welcome in the party,” he said.

[Trump civil rights official wants to defend abortion opponents and religious freedom]

Whether the Democratic tent should include members like Lipinski is an open question within the House caucus.

“The DCCC is funded by — we are a membership organization — it’s funded by our members. And I understand that the DCCC is often going to try to protect the incumbent,”  Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said last week, Newsweek reported.

Jaypal added, “You can’t say you’re a Democrat if you’re against immigrants, if you’re against abortion, if you’re against gay marriage and LGBTQ rights. I’m not sure what it means to be a Democrat if all of those things are true.”

In a Wednesday statement, Lipinski reiterated his friendship with Bustos, but said he understood that the fundraiser had become a “distraction.” 

“Cheri had agreed to attend this fundraiser many months ago because of our friendship, but we both understand that her most important job right now is her work leading the DCCC. We agree that it is in the best interest of House Democrats that she does not attend the event,” he said. “I very much appreciate Cheri Bustos’ work at the DCCC and her steadfast support of me through the years.”

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