Abortion rights bill: Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar only Democrat to buck party in vote

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Rep. Henry Cuellar was the only Democrat to vote against his party’s major abortion bill in the House of Representatives Friday – continuing his centrist streak that’s become very high profile in recent months between the migrant surge at the border and the negotiations over Democrats’ massive spending plans. 

The bill, led by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., passed by a final tally of 218 to 211. It bans a wide range of abortion restrictions used regularly by red states. These include waiting periods; bans based on whether or not a child would be able to live outside the womb; and bans based on the reason a woman is getting an abortion. 

Cuellar’s campaign and congressional office did not immediately return requests for comment. 

Cuellar’s primary opponent Jessica Cisneros, who is backed by the progressive PAC Justice Democrats, slammed Cuellar Friday. 

“Once against Henry Cuellar refused to stand up for South Texans’ reproductive freedom,” Cisneros said. “And he’s chosen to stand with his Republican allies and turn his back to south Texans’ families and our health care.”

Justice Democrats is the organization that initially helped Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., beat the powerful former Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. It’s also supported several other “Squad” members in their primary races against other Democrats. 

Cuellar represents a purple district that’s one of the most heavily Latino districts in the United States. As a moderate, he far outperformed President Biden during the 2020 election. Biden beat former President Trump by less than five percentage points while Cuellar romped his GOP opponent by nearly 20. 

The congressman has also highlighted his moderate streak on other issues in recent months. He held a press conference with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hitting the Biden administration for its handling of the situation on the southern border. He’s also one of the Democrats who is feuding with progressives over whether to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill before Democrats’ reconciliation bill. 

This week Cuellar told Fox News that he “wasn’t in the room” when the $3.5 trillion number was set as the target price for the reconciliation hill and therefore he feels no obligation to vote for a package with that level of spending.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, talks with reporters in the Capitol after a meeting of House Democrats on Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

And Congress should take first things first, Cuellar said, with the first thing being a vote on the infrastructure bill instead of reconciliation. 

Other Democrats hailed the abortion bill as a major victory for women. 

“The House of Representatives is taking a stand. For the first time in history we will be passing legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said just before the vote. 

Republicans, meanwhile, attacked Democrats for an allegedly immoral stance. 

“To my Democratic colleagues, if you are in support of killing a child for any reason — you wanted a boy but it’s a girl, ‘Eh, we’ll just get rid of it, try again’ — just have the courage and the guts to say it,” Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Mich., said on the House floor. 

The abortion bill is extremely unlikely to pass the Senate because Republicans will filibuster it. 

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