U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos defended Monday her efforts as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to back party incumbents over challengers as Marie Newman picked up several progressive endorsements in her challenge to eight-term Southwest Side and suburban Rep. Dan Lipinski.
Speaking to reporters after addressing the City Club of Chicago, Bustos, a four-term lawmaker from Moline, said her selection to run the DCCC was based on supporting current members as well as what she said was the 20 percent of party-organization funding from incumbents intended to grow the current Democratic House majority.
Bustos said the 3rd Congressional District Lipinski represents is “an entirely Democratic district. Democrats are going to hang onto that district. It would be nice if we didn’t have to expend any resources on a district we already have.”
Newman tried to unseat Lipinski in the March 2018 Democratic primary but lost by 2.2 percentage points, or 2,145 votes out of 95,205 votes cast. She announced her bid for a rematch against Lipinski, a social conservative who opposes abortion rights, on April 16.
As Bustos spoke of her DCCC role, Newman received the backing of six major progressive groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Democratic women’s organization EMILY’s List. She also was backed by MoveOn, Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Newman appeared later Monday at a downtown fundraising event for Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston that featured Bustos and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Newman sought to downplay differences between her and the DCCC.
“I think it’s really important to be in alignment with your district. I’m in alignment with my district,” Newman said. “The issue with the DCCC, we’ve kind of moved up and beyond and over. That’s a D.C. thing; that’s really not an in-district thing. I’m worried about my district.”
Bustos has faced criticism from more progressive elements of the party for opposition to primary challenges and for a DCCC policy that also prohibits political advisers, consultants or vendors from doing work with the organization if they work against incumbents.
“I don’t want to spend one ounce of any resource on keeping Democrats in the seats that they already have. I want to make sure that we have resources to pick up seats,” said Bustos, who called the DCCC “an incumbent-friendly organization.”
She called the current Democratic House majority, won in the November midterms, a “fragile majority” of 17 seats over Republicans with 31 House Democrats coming from districts that had been won by President Donald Trump, including her own 17th District.
“That’s hard. That’s job No. 1, that we spend our resources where we have to spend our resources,” she said.
As for incumbents holding positions on issues that run counter to current Democratic ideology, such as abortion rights, Bustos said her representation of rural parts of her district puts her in a position where “there’s all kinds of people who could take issue with how I vote.”
“I am not a person who applies an ‘if you’re for this, or against that, then we’ll help you,’” she said of the DCCC.