Top House Democrat James Clyburn defends campaigning for Rep. Henry Cuellar, the lone anti-abortion lawmaker in his caucus

Top House Democrat James Clyburn defends campaigning for Rep. Henry Cuellar, the lone anti-abortion lawmaker in his caucus
House Majority Whip James Clyburn and fellow Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar hold San Antonio Spurs jerseys during a campaign event on WednesdayEric Gay/AP
  • Rep. James Clyburn defended his decision to campaign for a Democratic lawmaker who opposes abortion.
  • "We have a big-tent party," the House majority whip told reporters in Texas.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn on Wednesday night defended his decision to campaign for Rep. Henry Cuellar, an embattled Texas Democrat who opposes abortion, in the wake of the leaked decision that the Supreme Court is ready to overturn abortion rights.

"We have a big-tent party, and if we're gonna be a big-tent party, we got to be a big-tent party," Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, told reporters, according to The Texas Tribune. "I don't believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party. I think we have to bring as many people into the party as we possibly can."

While there were once many anti-abortion Democratic lawmakers, few remain in Congress. Cuellar was the only one in his party to vote against a bill last year that would codify Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey into law. It passed on extremely narrow margins, but it's unlikely to become law.

President Joe Biden and other top party leaders have put renewed attention on that legislation given that the Supreme Court may soon end a federal right to an abortion. Clyburn's event was planned before the bombshell news but that hasn't stopped Cuellar's challenger from noticing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also supports Cuellar and has previously stumped for him.

Progressive Jessica Cisneros, who has received endorsements from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called for the party's leadership to withdraw their support before Clyburn came to the state. She made her appeal after Politico's extraordinary publication of a draft Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would explicitly overturn Roe and Casey. Cisneros and Cuellar are locked in a tight run-off race that will decide the future of the South Texas seat on May 24.


"At every turn, my congressman has stood in opposition to the Democratic Party agenda from being anti-union to anti-choice and with the House majority on the line, Cuellar could very much be the deciding vote on the future of reproductive rights in this country," Cisneros said in a video statement posted on Twitter. "And we just cannot afford that risk."

Cuellar responded to the publication of the draft ruling by restating his personal opposition to abortion and slamming conservative justices for not basing their draft ruling "on precedent" and for not being "incremental in nature." He also emphasized that he does not support an outright ban on abortions.

"As a lifelong Catholic, I have always been pro-life," Cuellar said in a statement. "I do not support abortion, however, we cannot have an outright ban. There must be exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother."

He summed up his views by saying, "My faith is clear: abortion must be rare & safe," a nod to former President Bill Clinton's famous four-word answer about his views on abortion.

In recent years, Democrats have split over how to treat anti-abortion views within their party — just as Republicans have struggled with how to treat pro-abortion views in theirs. In response to the draft opinion, many Democrats made an explicit appeal to midterm voters telling them abortion rights would be on the ballot.


"At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law," Biden said in a statement.