“Today has been a sobering day filled with tough conversations that too often we avoid, but I can say confidently that we are taking the first steps toward putting the DCCC back on path to protect and expand our majority, with a staff that truly reflects the diversity of our Democratic caucus and our party,” Bustos said in a statement issued shortly after 11 p.m. Monday.
She added: “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.”
First to depart Monday morning was Executive Director Allison Jaslow, a former top campaign aide and congressional chief of staff to Bustos who ascended to the top staff job earlier this year alongside several other Bustos loyalists.
Although that sort of transition is not unusual when a new leader takes over a political organization, it raised eyebrows that most of the newcomers were white given long-standing sensitivities about race, gender and other diversity concerns, said multiple Democrats who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the situation frankly.
A Politico report published last week detailed complaints about the diversity of the DCCC’s top ranks and increased pressure on Bustos to act, the Democrats said.
In a statement Sunday that was first reported by Politico, Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Velam, both of Texas, called for Jaslow’s firing and said the DCCC was “in complete chaos.”
“The single most immediate action that Cheri Bustos can take to restore confidence in the organization and to promote diversity is to appoint a qualified person of color, of which there are many, as executive director at once,” they said.
In a statement posted to her Twitter account, Jaslow said Monday that “sometimes selfless service means having the courage to take a bow for the sake of the mission — especially when the stakes are so high.”
“As I told the team today, they are without a doubt the most talented group of people I’ve ever worked with in my life,” she continued. “It was an honor and a true privilege to work with them every day and know with confidence that the Democratic House Majority will be protected with their relentless dedication, and under the leadership of Chairwoman Bustos.”
The dismay among some in the House has been especially pronounced from Latino Democrats, who saw expanded attention under Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Bustos’s predecessor as chairman. Luján hired the DCCC’s first Latino executive director, Dan Sena, and presided over an aggressive effort to identify and turn out Hispanic voters.
One particularly fraught issue surrounded the promotion of DCCC staff member Tayhlor Coleman, an African American woman whom Bustos tapped to head up a minority outreach initiative. Some Democrats were puzzled by the move because Coleman had previously served in the committee’s finance division and had last done outreach work in 2016, before joining the DCCC. Some also raised concerns about seemingly biased tweets she had sent nearly a decade ago while in college; Coleman apologized after they received attention in the conservative media earlier this year.
In her statement late Monday, Bustos named DCCC chief operating officer Jacqui Newman — a six-year member of the organization — as interim executive director and said she would lead an “executive council” of senior committee aides to run the organization and search for a permanent executive director.
“I have never been more committed to expanding and protecting this majority, while creating a workplace that we can all be proud of,” Bustos said. “I will work tirelessly to ensure that our staff is truly inclusive.”
The internal tumult comes as a distraction from what otherwise has been an encouraging early part of the election cycle for House Democrats. The DCCC has reported a record fundraising total for the first half of 2019, and Democratic House campaigns have raised tens of millions more dollars than Republican campaigns have.
Furthermore, several GOP lawmakers have announced their retirements in recent weeks — a sign that Republicans’ hope of winning back control of the House in 2020 is fading.
But Republicans have been relentless in their campaign to try to connect swing-district Democrats to the most extreme reaches of the party — frequently invoking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and the three other members of the left-wing “Squad” — and Bustos’s first months in charge of the DCCC have been marked by multiple controversies.
Bustos — who ran for DCCC chair last year after switching from her effort to claim the No. 4 party leadership spot, a post Luján now holds — premised her bona fides for the campaign job on her own ability to get elected by comfortable margins in a swing district. That, she has said, gives her unique insight into the challenges faced by the 31 Democrats who are seeking reelection next year in districts that Donald Trump carried in the 2016 presidential contest, as well as those faced by challengers hoping to unseat even more Republicans.
But she experienced a backlash from liberals earlier this year after formalizing a policy excluding consultants who assist insurgent candidates challenging Democratic incumbents from receiving DCCC backing. Later, she was forced to cancel an appearance at a fundraiser for Rep. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), one of the last Democrats in Congress who oppose abortion.
In a May interview in her home district, Bustos made no apologies for acting to protect the center of the Democratic caucus and thus making sure Democrats keep their hard-fought majority.
“Anything that takes away from that is, in my opinion, time, attention, effort and resources that we can’t be spending to make sure that we hang on to tough districts and pick up the ones that we can,” she said.