Progressive Democrat confronts Rep. Cuellar at parade, calls for him to debate her: report

A progressive challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) reportedly confronted him at a local parade on Saturday, calling for him to debate her ahead of their Super Tuesday primary.

Attorney Jessica Cisneros called to Cuellar while he participated in the Laredo, Texas, parade, saying, "The people of the district deserve a debate." The lawmaker did not answer Cisneros's calls, The Wall Street Journal reported, and has said he will not debate before the March 3 primary.

Cisneros was on the sidelines of the parade, greeting voters, because political challengers to the incumbents aren't invited to participate in the George Washington birthday celebration.

Colin Strother, a spokesman for Cuellar's campaign, confirmed to The Hill that the representative has no plans to debate Cisneros, saying she has yet to establish "beyond a Twitter account" that she is a "serious candidate."

"The national media follow Twitter and have one perspective on this race, and the people in the district have a different one," Strother said, saying Cisneros has limited on-the-ground support.

"We don't have time to run our campaign and hers as well," he added.

This Texas House race represents the first significant challenge to an incumbent in 2020, the Journal noted, and reflects the split in the Democratic Party between centrist and liberal voters.

Cuellar compared the liberal challenge in the party, including from his opponent, to the Tea Party movement in the Republican Party years ago. 

"We're seeing folks that are trying to purify the Democrats," Cuellar said. "They feel that the only way somebody is a real Democrat is if they're a real progressive ... and if you don't fit in that image, then you're the enemy."

Cisneros, who interned for Cuellar six years ago, backs "Medicare for All" and has been endorsed by progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). 

She argues that Cuellar pushes the "idea that South Texas is just super conservative, and that's why he's voting the way that he's voting, but that's really not the case if you go out there and actually talk to voters," according to the Journal.

Cisneros began calling for a debate after making the ballot in December. 

"It's clear the Congressman is worried," she said in a Dec. 16 statement. "But voters deserve to have their concerns heard and the opportunity to hear directly from us about where we stand on issues that affect their daily lives. So why not meet me on the debate stage?"