Pelosi defends leadership effort to cull Dem primary

Pelosi defends leadership effort to cull Dem primary
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGOP pollster: Republicans may hold on to the House in midterms Bloomberg visits New Hampshire, fueling 2020 speculation The Memo: Rust Belt race hinges on Trump MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday defended Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Stocks slide for second day as Trump blames 'loco' Fed | Mulvaney calls for unity at consumer bureau | Pelosi says Dems will go after Trump tax returns Pelosi: Trump tax returns ‘one of the first things we’d do’ if Dems win House GOP sees Kavanaugh as boost for Senate, danger for House MORE (D-Md.) following revelations that the minority whip pressed a Colorado liberal to drop out of a primary race in a highly contested Denver suburb.

Pelosi said such pressure campaigns are simply a pragmatic way to narrow the primary field for the sake of increasing the party’s chances of picking up Republican-held seats in November's midterm elections.

According to a recording obtained by The Intercept, Hoyer late last year pressed Levi Tillemann to drop out of the Democratic primary race to challenge Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGroup begins 'Nuns on the Bus' tour to protest Trump tax law ahead of midterms Election Countdown: Dems raising millions in fight for House | Trump attacks potential challengers | GOP finalizes 2020 convention plans | Dems see Kavanaugh fight driving women voters to the polls | Bloomberg spending big for Senate Dems GOP sacrifices women and House Republicans with Kavanaugh plan MORE (R-Colo.) in November.

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Tillemann is a former Obama administration official who’s running to the left of leading candidate Jason Crow, an attorney and Army veteran. The seat is a top target for Democrats.

“In terms of candidates and campaigns, I don't see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in a conversation about — the realities of life in a race, as to who can win in the general election,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Pelosi said she’s more deeply troubled that Tillemann had privately taped his conversation with Hoyer when the pair met in Denver late last year and then released the recording to the press.

Portions of the audio were released Thursday by The Intercept.

“I don't know that a person can tape a person without the person's consent and then release it to the press,” Pelosi said. “That's what I'm more concerned about.”

In the audio, Hoyer urges Tillemann to step out of the primary race and endorse Crow. Hoyer noted that he didn’t know Crow, but Democratic operatives had deemed him “early on” to be the party’s best chance of picking up a seat Coffman has held for almost a decade. 

“I’m for Crow because a judgment was made very early on,” Hoyer says. “I didn’t participate in the decision.”

Tillemann responds with accusations that Democratic leaders — including those at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — were tipping the scales of the race before voters had an opportunity to weigh in.

“So your position is a decision was made very early on before voters had a say, [and] that’s fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate?” Tillemann asks.

“That’s certainly the consequence of our decision,” Hoyer responded, according to the audio.

The issue of establishment influence over primary contests is a sensitive one for the Democrats, following a 2016 election cycle in which leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were found to have sided with former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on if Bill should’ve resigned over Lewinsky scandal: ‘Absolutely not’ Electoral battle for Hispanics intensifies in Florida Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada MORE over Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Senators concerned as Trump official disputes UN climate change warning Jake Tapper hits Trump over 'Medicare for all' op-ed: ‘It’s only an hourlong show, we can’t get into every lie’ MORE (I-Vt.).

The damning emails revealing that bias, leaked just as the Democrats were launching their national convention in Philadelphia, marked a humiliating chapter in the Democrats’ failed race for the White House and led directly to the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzHouse Intel votes to release Russia transcripts Live coverage: Senate Judiciary to vote on Kavanaugh confirmation Dems urge Mattis to reject using 0M for border wall MORE (D-Fla.) as the DNC leader.

Liberals haven’t forgotten that episode and several progressive groups were quick to pounce Thursday after the Hoyer recordings were released. Both the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America (DFA) accused Hoyer and the DCCC of prioritizing corporate interests over progressive ideals.

"If Steny Hoyer wants to continue carrying water for greed-driven corporate interests in Congress, that's his choice, but he doesn't represent the future of the Democratic Party or the interests of the people of color and progressive white voters critical to retaking the House in November,” said Charles Chamberlain, DFA’s executive director.

Pelosi rejected such characterizations, saying the Democrats are merely trying to field the roster best positioned to give the party the Speaker’s gavel next year.

“What's important in all of this is that one in five children in America lives in poverty and goes to sleep hungry at night. That's what makes this election so urgent for our country and for our children,” Pelosi said. 

“So with the realities of life, that some candidates can do better in the general than others, then that's a clear-eyed conversation that we should be having.”

Colorado’s primary contest is scheduled to take place on June 26.