Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is wading into one of Texas’ most closely watched primary challenges, endorsing progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros who has mounted a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress.
“This is the most important election in our lifetime and I’m proud there are so many candidates running for Congress who understand that real change comes from the bottom on up, not the top on down,” Sanders said in a statement.
Cisneros was one of nine candidates Sanders endorsed early Wednesday, in addition to incumbent Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Peter Welch of Vermont.
Some progressives had weighed in wondering why Sanders had not endorsed Cisneros earlier while she collected a number of high-profile endorsements, including from fellow presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.
Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect Ocasio-Cortez, also endorsed Cisernos last year.
Again, I am glad he has endorsed her campaign but I have to wonder why it took him so long:
The Vermont senator’s absence is particularly glaring because of the breadth of support Cisneros already enjoys. The Laredo native, who at 26 would be the youngest-ever woman elected to Congress, is backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and a broad array of progressive organizations and labor unions that typically stick with incumbents. The latter group of endorsers includes EMILY’s List, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a branch of the Communication Workers of America, MoveOn Action, and the League of Conservation Voters.
“It’s going to be really hard to build a political revolution that gets 51 votes in the Senate if you’re not willing to carry a carrot and a stick and one of those sticks is primary challenges against conservative Democrats,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of the progressive think tank, Data for Progress, which has conducted polling for Warren. “It’s going to be incredibly hard to scare [Sens.] Tom Carper and Chris Coons if you’re not willing to take on Henry Cuellar.”
“I’m genuinely baffled,” added McElwee, who has not formally endorsed in the Democratic presidential primary. “Why is Warren supporting the Henry Cuellar challenger and Bernie isn’t?”
A progressive Texas activist and Sanders volunteer, who declined to be named for professional reasons, echoed McElwee’s arguments. The activist noted that while Sanders had endorsed progressive candidates in several contentious state and local primaries across the country, “none of those can pass his agenda at the federal level.”
“Bernie needs reinforcements in Congress and this one is a no-brainer,” the activist concluded.
McElwee worries that it reflects Sanders’ “institutionalist” streak, noting that the Vermont senator has also refused to embrace the elimination of the filibuster. (Warren and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have both come out in support of ending the practice.)
More urgently, McElwee fears a repeat of the Virginia legislative primaries in June, when human rights attorney and Democratic National Committeewoman Yasmine Taeb fell short in her bid to unseat the pro-corporate, state Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw by a few hundred votes. Sanders did not endorse Taeb, a supporter of his in the 2016 election, though Our Revolution, a liberal advocacy group that emerged from his first presidential bid did.
Taeb, who said she is leaning toward endorsing Sanders again, believes she would have benefited from his help and encouraged him to get involved in Cisneros’ race.
“Having the endorsement of someone like Bernie Sanders would be incredibly useful to her,” Taeb said.
Hopefully Sanders is realizing that winning the nominee also means that you have to be a party leader and help other Democrats win. Now if he could support abolishing the filibuster or prioritizing filibuster reform once he becomes President, that would be great. Any way, let’s keep up the momentum. Click here to donate and get involved with Cisneros campaign.