We are (sadly) 638 days away from the 2018 midterm elections, or as I’m going to refer to them The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime and I’m Going to Keep Calling Every Election That Until We Get It Right.
I’ve already used this space to outline some legislation that’s on my radar in an attempt to educate myself and whatever readership I may get as to what’s going on in Congress and how politics, despite the way it’s covered sometimes, is a real thing that has real impacts on the lives of real Americans.
Behind this legislation are more real Americans, our Members of Congress. In 2012, Gallup found that only 35% of Americans can name their Congressperson. This relative anonymity, plus the increase in partisan tribalism, goes a long way toward explaining how a governing body with approval ratings that are routinely below 20% get reelected at rates that almost always exceed 90%.
So, in an effort to ameliorate this situation somewhat, I’ll be doing occasional profiles of Democratic representatives, with a goal of eventually touching on all 242 Congressmen, Congresswomen and Senators by the time we vote again. That works out to one every 2-3 days, which for now seems possible.
So, what better place to start than with the man who sticks out like a sore thumb on my House Tracking sheet: Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who has the distinction of being the last Democrat – either in the House or Senate – to have voted with Trump and the Republicans on every single major bill to come before Congress this year.
This isn’t particularly surprising. Cuellar has been one of the more… bipartisan… members of the House delegation. GovTrack uses a pretty handy chart to track Members of Congress both on an ideological axis (left to right, get it?) as well as a Leadership axis (an equally apropos top to bottom ranking). This gives you a good look at a glance at not only how a member ranks vis-a-vis his own caucus ideologically, but how much heft he carries around with him.
As you can see, Rep. Cuellar is well to the right of most of the Democratic caucus (the blue dot to his right being Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, generally considered THE most conservative Democrat in the House). Also, despite having served since 2005, he’s in the bottom quartile of Democratic members when it comes to Leadership, the methodology of which GovTrack details HERE.
Just to reiterate, I am not ignorant to the pressures that Democratic congressmen from swing districts and red states face. I do not expect a representative from rural Minnesota like Mr. Peterson to vote the same way my congressman from Lower Manhattan does. But what makes Cuellar’s ideology (and his longevity) so puzzling is that his district isn’t overly swingy. Its PVI is D+7, which means that on average it votes 7% more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Hillary Clinton won his district by twenty points. His district is 78% Hispanic.
I understand that his Catholicism may preclude him from voting with Democrats on issues like abortion, but Cuellar has sided with Republicans so far this year on repealing mining regulations, disclosure of foreign influence on oil companies, and repealing a rule requiring energy companies to reduce waste and emissions. All while actual red-district Democrats like Val Demmings in R+7 FL-10 and Tom O’Halleran in R+4 AZ-1 were holding the line.
Cuellar has not received a credible Democratic primary challenge in 10 years, when he received an endorsement from the conservative Club for Growth in a rematch with former Democratic congressman Ciro Rodriguez. In 2016, an election in which he won reelection with 66% of the vote, the only challenger Democrats could put up against him was a former Republican. He’s an outspoken critic of President Trump’s border security language, but his voting record speaks for itself.
It’s early. There have only been 5 votes of import so far in the 115th Congress. But Cuellar deserves to be watched carefully, and should be considered a Democratic primary target for 2018.