Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat from south Texas, is a longtime friend of Perry’s, having served in his administration as secretary of state. Cuellar, 64, is being challenged by Jessica Cisneros, 26, an immigration and human rights attorney who has sought to make an issue out of Cuellar’s ties to Republicans. She has taken to calling Cuellar, who has broken with Democratic Party orthodoxy on gun regulations, immigration enforcement and abortion rights, “Donald Trump’s favorite Democrat.”
On Thursday, Cisneros demanded that Perry testify before the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry. She didn’t name Cuellar, but the implication was clear.
“We continue to hear credible testimony from witnesses appearing in the impeachment inquiry that Energy Secretary Rick Perry was both ‘in the loop’ and may have played a role in Donald Trump’s corrupt attempted bribery of Ukraine for his personal political benefit — and yet Secretary Perry has refused to do his duty and honor the Congressional subpoena to testify about what he knows,” she said in a statement. “When I serve in Congress, honoring our Democracy and upholding the constitution will be among my highest obligations, but I know those outcomes rely on public servants like Secretary Perry to be willing to put country ahead of political party.”
Perry, the former Republican governor of Texas, has refused to testify in closed-door impeachment hearings.
Pressure on him to testify is likely to grow stronger following this week’s explosive round of public testimony. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that Perry was part of an instrumental group of Trump administration officials tasked with creating a back channel to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the purpose of pursuing political investigations to benefit Trump. (Perry has denied Sondland’s version of events through a spokesperson.)
“My position is unchanged: anyone with information should appear before the committee and answer questions under oath,” Cuellar told HuffPost in a statement.
Cuellar, who is an attorney, served under Perry only briefly as Texas’ secretary of state, leaving office in October 2001 after just six months in office. Cuellar went on to run for Congress in 2002, winning on his second go-round in 2004.
Over the course of a decade and a half in Congress, Cuellar has maintained warm relations with Perry. He was the only Democrat in the House to vote against a 2012 resolution condemning the name of Perry’s family ranch, which includes a racial slur for African Americans. That same year, he broke with his Democratic colleagues in the state when he declined to oppose the then-governor’s partisan redistricting plan. And according to local reporter Andrew Kreighbaum, Cuellar even spoke about the possibility of feeling conflicted if Perry were the Republican nominee against President Barack Obama in 2012.
When Trump nominated Perry to his Cabinet, Cuellar spoke up on his behalf and urged his colleagues in the Senate to vote yes on his nomination.
Cisneros was raised in the district and moved back from New York City to run for Congress. With the support of the left-wing group Justice Democrats, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York ― the group’s most famous endorsee ― and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, Cisneros launched a campaign in June based on the premise that a solidly Democratic district deserved a more progressive representative in Washington.
She is running on a progressive platform of fighting for “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal and a more humane immigration policy. But she has also raised eyebrows by picking up the backing of more mainstream Democratic validators, including some local labor unions and the deep-pocketed, pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List.
Cuellar maintains that his bipartisan approach is in keeping with the heavily Latino, low-income district’s preferences. He has the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
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