Pelosi defends leadership effort to cull Dem primary

Pelosi defends leadership effort to cull Dem primary
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Democrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday defended Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 House to vote next week on sweeping bill to lower drug prices 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 CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform 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 ClintonDemocrats battle for Hollywood's cash The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE over Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire 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 SchultzOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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.