House Democrats’ campaign arm could have spent this past week talking about how many House Republicans are retiring (five in the past two weeks). Or how House Democrats passed election security legislation that’s being held up in the Republican-controlled Senate. Or President Trump’s racist tweets, which have a key voting bloc, or suburban women recoiling. Or do any number of things focused on how to keep the majority they won in 2018.
Instead, it spent this past week talking about how its top leadership is too white. On Monday, Allison Jaslow, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a white woman, was forced to resign over internal criticism about the DCCC’s lack of diversity. Most of the senior staff, including DCCC’s deputy executive director, communications director and political director, left too. This comes a month after an African American aide in charge of minority outreach was moved to another position after a conservative news outlet published tweets of hers, posted years ago, that were homophobic and insensitive to Mexicans.
The chairwoman of the DCCC, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), issued an apologetic statement Monday about all this that in part said: “Today, I recognize that, at times, I have fallen short in leading these talented individuals. To my colleagues, who I have the upmost respect for, I hear your concerns, and we can and must do better.”
The criticism of the DCCC was first brought to light last week by Politico. Reporters talked to black and Latino lawmakers in Congress who thought the DCCC had an outdated playbook on Latino outreach and was tone deaf on matters of race — hardly the right mix for an impending election that is fast centering on race and racial division.
Who leads a House Democratic Party committee that most people have never heard of is an insidery debate; the stuff that keeps Washington, D.C., intrigued but the average voter could care less. Still, what happened these past few days in Washington stings for Democrats more broadly for three reasons:
1.) Democrats spent the 2018 election diversifying senior leaders in their House campaign arm and then electing the most diverse class of Democrats to the House in history. Are they in the right mind-set and place to defend those seats? Some lawmakers wonder.
“The overall plan for Latino outreach seems to be some 1980s playbook, which doesn’t work anymore,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told Politico before the leadership change.
2.) As Trump is telling lawmakers of color to “go home” and describing a majority-black city as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” the last thing Democrats want to be criticized for is being tone deaf on race. Especially by their own team.
3.) This is a distraction for Democrats, who will need every tool they have to keep control of the House in 2020. They netted 41 seats by winning in Republican-leaning districts in places like Kansas, Iowa and Georgia.
“Party committees’ sole reason for existence is to win seats,” GOP strategist Doug Heye wrote in an email to The Fix. Heye knows what the DCCC is going through: He has dealt with his own share of internal staff infighting and rogue consultants while at the Republican National Committee. “Anything that takes the eye off that — especially anonymous quotes and backstabbing — makes that goal harder.”
For now, it seems the criticisms may have been quelled with the leadership change. Politico talked to black and Latino lawmakers Monday who seemed supportive of the DCCC after Bustos was willing to get rid of one of her own allies there. It seems she managed to convey to them that she understands what a big deal it is to House Democrats to have diverse leadership on their campaign committee, especially in this election.
“The work we did to elect the most diverse majority in American history was so important,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, “and I am glad to see Chairwoman Bustos hear the concerns of her colleagues and tackle issues of diversity and inclusion head on, so we can build on that.”
At the very least, this past week was an unhelpful distraction for House Democrats. They certainly hope it doesn’t get any worse.