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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer Wednesday stood by his support for pro-life Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar – while Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries avoided directly addressing his endorsement of the congressman.
“We’re a diverse party and we have diverse opinions,” Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters. “Our platform says we’re a pro-choice party… that does not mean that there’s not room in our party for alternative voices.”
Cuellar, D-Texas, Hoyer added, has “represented his district well and his state well.”
The attention on Democrat leaders’ endorsements of Cuellar comes after Politico published a draft Supreme Court opinion which would overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that mandated abortion be legal nationally. A final ruling in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is expected by early July.
Cuellar voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify a right to abortion through birth, when the House held a vote last year. And progressive primary opponent Jessica Cisneros is using that stance in an attempt to rally progressive support before the May 24 runoff in their primary.
“Joe Manchin isn’t up for re-election until 2024, but our runoff against Henry Cuellar—the last anti-choice Democrat in the House—is in 13 days,” Cisneros tweeted Wednesday. “Help us set the tone for the midterm elections. Reproductive freedom is a fundamental right and a winning issue!”
Cuellar, meanwhile, said in a recent statement he does not support abortion but is against “an outright ban.” He further criticized the expected Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe as “not based on precedent and not incremental in nature.”
But that isn’t stopping many progressives from pushing for Cisneros in the primary. Her supporters include “Squad” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and the progressive group Justice Democrats.
When Jeffries was asked about Cuellar at his Wednesday press conference, he deferred to Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Judy Chu, D-Calif. They explained that even pro-life Democrats support some right to abortion. Pressed further on Cuellar, Jeffries didn’t specifically address the congressman.
“I have 100% record when it comes to supporting reproductive freedom going all the way back to my time in the legislature. I’ve served in public office for 16 years,” Jeffries said. “My record speaks for itself.”
Democrats are expected to make abortion access a major issue ahead of the midterms, especially with rising inflation and President Biden’s approval cutting against them.
Senate Democrats forced a procedural vote on an abortion codification bill Wednesday but it failed, with all Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voting against it.