Dem’s suggestion angering party
The proposal seemed modest in today’s polarized political climate: The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggested his group may help fund candidates who didn’t share the party’s support for abortion rights.
The backlash from abortion-rights activists and organizations was quick and harsh. The basic message: Don’t go there.
A coalition of progressive groups, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued a “statement of principles “challenging the party to be unwavering in its support for abortion rights. Scores of women who have had abortions made the same point in an open letter to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a staunch abortionrights supporter who nonetheless says there’s room in the party for opposing views.
“The DCCC should not be supporting any politician who does not respect a woman’s right to control her body,” said Karin Roland, of the women’s rights group Ultraviolet. “There is no future of the Democratic Party without women — so stop betraying them for a misguided idea of what’s needed to win elections.”
The latest brush fires were sparked this week by the DCCC chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, when he told The Hill newspaper that the committee is willing to aid candidates who oppose abortion rights. His core argument: Democrats — after a series of dismaying losses in national and state elections — will only reclaim power by winning in GOP-leaning districts and states where the liberal base can’t deliver victories on its own.
A DCCC official, Meredith Kelly, said Lujan isn’t looking specifically for abortion-rights opponents, even in conservative districts. But, she added, “We are working right now to recruit candidates who represent Democratic values and who also fit the districts they are running in.”
The current Congress is almost monolithic when it comes to abortion. Only a small handful of Republicans vote in favor of abortion rights; a similarly small number of Democrats support restrictions on abortion.
Some Democratic officials suggest the argument over Lujan’s remarks is overblown — a handful of outliers won’t change the agenda if Democrats reclaim congressional majorities. Abortion-rights leaders have a different view.
“Every time the Democrats lose an election, they start casting about in ways that are deeply damaging to the base,” NARAL president Ilyse Hogue said. “If they go out and start recruiting anti-choice candidates under the Democratic brand, the message is, ‘We’re willing to sell out women to win,’ and politically that’s just suicide.”
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said politicians who personally object to abortion should be welcome in the Democratic Party — as long as they don’t vote to impose that view on others.
Supporting candidates who voted that way, said Laguens, would be comparable to supporting candidates who voted against LGBT-rights.
“These are fundamental issues that Democrats have staked their world view around,” she said.
Stephen Schneck, a longtime political science professor at Catholic University and board member with Democrats for Life of America, contends that the Democratic leadership would benefit from more diverse views on abortion.
“Internal tensions are really good for a party,” he said, citing polls showing that more than 20 percent of Democratic voters oppose abortion in most cases.
In some respects, Lujan’s remarks don’t represent a new stance for the Democrats’ campaign apparatus. The Democratic Governors Association in 2015 helped John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Catholic, win the Louisiana governors’ race, an upset in a Republican-dominated state.
The governors’ group is now eyeing the 2018 race for governor in Kansas. The Democratic field includes former legislator and agriculture commissioner Joshua Svaty, who had an anti-abortion record in the Kansas House.