The Progressive Group Behind AOC's Win Finds Its First 2020 Target

Photo: AP

The group that recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has found its first challenger of the 2020 cycle: Jessica Cisneros, an immigration and human rights attorney and the “proud daughter of Mexican immigrants,” will challenge Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’ 28th district.

She is 26. Excuse me while I stare into the distance for a moment and think about what I was doing at 26.

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Ok, I’m back, here she is:

Cuellar has been a target among the left for a while—Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas told Splinter in December that the group was paying close attention to Cuellar for a potential 2020 challenge—and for good reason. Justice Dems noted that Cuellar voted with Trump 69 percent of the time (not nice) and received an “A” rating from the NRA. And shortly before the last election, he was criticized by fellow Democrats for appearing at a fundraiser for incumbent GOP Rep. John Carter, who ultimately defeated Democrat MJ Hegar by less than three points in November.

But his campaign manager was not rattled, and told Vox:

“It’s a conservative district. We ran on an endorsement from the NRA,” Strother told Vox. “The Justice Democrats have been spinning some yarn that Congressman Cuellar has been deceptive and if his voters only knew his record ... no, the voters are very aware of his voting record.”

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Yee haw.

Voter turnout in Webb County, which covers the city of Laredo in Cuellar’s district, has recently been lower than the national average. In 2016, when 58 percent of voters turned out nationally, only 46 percent of Webb County voted. In 2014, it was just 22 percent. I just wonder how many of those people were aware of Cuellar’s NRA endorsement—and how that might play post-Trump and post-Parkland.

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Cuellar has been dubbed “Big Oil’s favorite Democrat,” and he received $143,500 from oil & gas industry PACs in the 2018 cycle. In 2018, Cuellar was one of the top recipients of funds from the GEO Group, the private prison operator that contracts with ICE to run detention facilities. It operates at least one in Cuellar’s district, just outside Laredo. Cuellar received $32,400 from the GEO Group and its employees in 2018. The employees who donated gave at least $1,500 each, and were all executive-level employees.

Perhaps that explains Cuellar’s vote last year for a meaningless Republican measure pledging “continued support” for ICE, which he defended to BuzzFeed:

“The problem are not the men and women of ICE. Those are the same men and women that worked under Bush, worked under Obama, they’re working now under Trump,” Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar told BuzzFeed News. “The problem is the policies that the Trump administration — that’s what we ought to focus our anger on, the policies of Trump. Not on the men and women that are just there to enforce the law.”

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Just there to enforce the law!

In 2014, Cuellar partnered with Sen. John Cornyn to try and overturn the 2008 anti-trafficking law that requires the government to place unaccompanied child minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada in HHS custody and give them a court hearing, instead of just deporting them immediately. The Due Process Hater. (Trump’s White House would later object to that law, too.)

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Last year, a former congressional aide, Kristie Small, accused Cuellar of firing her because she was pregnant. Last month, Small filed a lawsuit alleging this, which she was unable to do until she had completed a mediation process with the Office of Compliance. The lawsuit alleges that Small “was the only pregnant female employee, and she was the only employee subject to a probationary period.”

Sounds like a nice guy! Best of luck.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com