News Release

BadBlues: RootsAction Announces List of Democrats who “Deserve to Be ‘Primaried’”


Portrait of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer made up of logos of his largest funders, by Sarah Darley.

The group just released a report — “Bad Blues: Some of the House Democrats Who Deserve to Be ‘Primaried’” — profiling 15 Democratic Party House incumbents. The report concedes: “It isn’t easy to defeat a Democratic incumbent in a primary. Typically, the worse the Congress member, the more (corporate) funding they get.” The group adds: “While most insurgent primary campaigns will not win, they’re often very worthwhile — helping progressive constituencies to get better organized and to win elections later. And a grassroots primary campaign can put a scare into the Democratic incumbent to pay more attention to voters and less to big donors.” See the just-published HuffPost piece: “Left-Wing Group Announces List Of House Democrats To Unseat.”

Below are excerpts on each of the incumbents. The full report is at

Few Democrats in Congress have earned faster or fiercer notoriety among progressives nationwide than Cheri Bustos. Just 10 weeks after becoming chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in early January, she imposed a new policy that blacklists any consultant or vendor who works for a primary challenger against an incumbent House Democrat.

With Nashville as its main population center, the 5th Congressional District is something of a progressive oasis in Tennessee; Hillary Clinton topped Trump there by 18 points. Yet voters have been saddled for more than 16 years with Jim Cooper, an old-style GOP-type deficit hawk who supports austerity economics that hurts the vast majority of his constituents.

In 2018, Data for Progress found that 64 percent of Democrats support a Green New Deal, reflecting the view that a massive government commitment to fighting climate change is the only way to save the planet — while providing jobs and economic justice. A Hart research poll pegged support at 83 percent among likely Democratic primary voters. Given these numbers, how can a congressmember in a Democratic district stay in office when plainly doing the bidding of our nation’s largest polluters?

Although nominally a Democrat, he is close to Texas Republicans like former Governor Rick Perry, now Trump’s Secretary of Energy. Cuellar crossed party lines to endorse George W. Bush for president in 2000. He’s one of the rare Democrats to receive Koch Industries PAC funding, including a donation in 2019. Roughly 25 percent of Cuellar’s constituents live below the poverty line, and Cuellar often votes to make their lives more difficult.

For someone in the Democratic leadership, this 16-term Congressman and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is notable for repeatedly breaking with his own party to support Republican foreign policy positions. In 2003, when most House Democrats refused to authorize an invasion of Iraq, Engel voted for President Bush’s disastrous war. In 2015, he was one of only 25 House Democrats to join Republicans in opposing President Obama’s historic Iran nuclear deal. [Note: Last week, Engel effectively backed a possible Trump administration strike on Iran, saying on CNN: “individual strike, we don’t want to tie the president’s hands.”]

Very few House Democrats are more eager to align with the GOP than Josh Gottheimer. During his first two years in Congress, he voted with Trump a whopping 55 percent of the time. Gottheimer cochairs the reach-across-the-aisle Problem Solvers Caucus; his official website says he leads the group “to find areas of agreement” for such goals as “lowering taxes” and “cutting burdensome and unnecessary regulation.” Gottheimer’s generous Wall Street patrons are no doubt gratified.

“Wall Street’s Favorite Democrat.” That’s how a Bloomberg profile described Jim Himes in 2011, with a subtitle: “Jim Himes works to dial back laws that get in the big banks’ way.” During his decade in Congress, the Connecticut congressman has done much to win Wall Street’s favor.

Consummate power broker Steny Hoyer has long served as the number-two Democrat in the House, often using leverage for policy agendas that are unpopular with the party’s base but popular with Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. In late 2002, he was among the minority of House Democrats voting to authorize war on Iraq. In 2008, he angered civil-liberties advocates when he helped draft a “compromise bill” with Republicans that expanded government surveillance power and immunized telecom firms for privacy abuses. (Senator Russ Feingold called it “a capitulation.”) In 2012, he urged a “grand bargain” budget deal that would cut entitlement programs. … Hoyer’s prodigious corporate services haven’t flagged. These days, he’s busy obstructing progressive initiatives from Medicare for All to a Green New Deal.

Kilmer’s increased clout on Capitol Hill means that he has more leverage against the interests of many constituents in a district where the median household income is scarcely $63,000. Meanwhile, the congressman gets plenty of corporate money. During the last term, Kilmer — who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee — received nearly a quarter of a million dollars combined from the casinos/gambling and securities/investment industries. The military and tech sectors also contributed; Northrop Grumman and Microsoft each chipped in more than $30,000. His campaign and PAC ended last year with more than $3 million cash on hand.

In the 2018 primary, Lipinski narrowly defeated (by 2,145 votes, 51 to 49 percent) liberal challenger Marie Newman. Yet Lipinski remains mostly conservative. … A leading member of the “fiscally conservative” Blue Dog Coalition, the eight-term congressman is not generous toward working-class needs (he voted against Obamacare), but he’s lavish in supporting military spending and domestic surveillance. He was one of a few dozen Democrats who voted against the 2010 Dream Act. … Lipinski was smuggled into his congressional seat by his dad Bill Lipinski, a conservative Democrat (now a DC lobbyist) and 11-term Congress member who won the Democratic primary for a twelfth term in 2004 and then stepped aside after finagling to have his son replace him on the November ballot.

Meeks’ corruption problems are an open secret. The watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has repeatedly chosen Meeks as among the most corrupt inside the Beltway, calling him one of three who “really stand out.” Meeks bought a million-dollar-plus home built for him by a campaign contributor, paying far less than its value. He founded a nonprofit that collected $31,000 in Hurricane Katrina relief but paid out only $1,392. He traveled to the Caribbean at least six times on the dime of a convicted Ponzi schemer (who also donated to Meeks’ campaign).

“Brad’s been named one of the most bipartisan members of Congress because he’s interested in solving problems,” Schneider’s campaign website declares. A big problem he seems interested in solving is how to impress middle-class constituents without fighting for their economic interests. Instead of backing such proposals as Medicare for All and tuition-free public college, Schneider prefers to talk vaguely about “affordable” healthcare and “affordable” college.

Mark Gamba, now in his fifth year as the mayor of Milwaukee (pop. 20,000), is running to replace Schrader. “He likes to pretend that he’s reaching across the aisle to get things done,” Gamba told us, “but it almost always goes back to the corporations that back him financially.” Schrader, a longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition, gets a lot of money from corporate interests, including from the Koch Industries PAC.

After sixteen years as one of the most conservative African-American Democrats in Congress, David Scott is facing a primary fight in a deep blue district that includes southwest Atlanta and neighboring suburbs, where Clinton beat Trump by nearly 3-to-1. The challenge is coming from a former chair of the Democratic Party in populous Cobb County, Michael Owens, who launched his uphill campaign in May while signaling that he’ll make Scott’s big-business entanglements a central issue in the race. “Owens said Scott, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, has gotten too cozy with the payday lending industry and other corporate interests,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Juan Vargas represents an overwhelmingly Latino and Democratic district (where Clinton beat Trump by a 50-point margin) that includes California’s entire U.S.-Mexico border. Since being elected to the House in 2012, he has become known for one pet issue, far from uppermost in the minds of his largely working-class constituents: defending Israel no matter what.
The report was edited by Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watch group FAIR and co-founder of Contributors to the report were Sam McCann (writer and researcher whose recent projects include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9); Pia Gallegos (communications chair of the Adelante Progressive Caucus, Democratic Party of New Mexico, a member of the state party’s Rules Committee and a civil rights attorney); and Norman Solomon (author of War Made Easy, the national coordinator of and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.)

Further information:
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