Bernie Sanders endorses challenger in contentious South Texas primary

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Jessica Cisneros, left, is running for Texas’ 28th Congressional District. (Courtesy Photo) U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is seen in McAllen in August 2019. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Wednesday added his name to a growing list of national political figures who are endorsing a young political newcomer in a hotly contested South Texas congressional race.

Jessica Cisneros, left, is running for Texas’ 28th Congressional District. (Courtesy Photo) U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is seen in McAllen in August 2019. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Sanders, an Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont, announced that he is backing Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration lawyer from Laredo. Cisneros is running against her old boss, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a 15-year incumbent who serves as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security; the Defense Subcommittee; and the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration. In the current 116th Congress, he also serves as Chief Deputy Whip.

Sanders’ endorsement came just days after the Texas AFL-CIO backed Cisneros. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, as well as Democratic U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts also have endorsed Cisneros.

“I’m so grateful to receive the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders who is running a grassroots campaign to fight for working people, not big corporate donors,” Cisneros said in a statement. “We’re proud that presidential candidates are taking a close look at South Texas as we fight to turn Texas blue in November — and that they know we’re the only candidate in this race who will champion Democratic values in Washington.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to Iowa voters at the Ames City Auditorium on January 25, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa holds the state’s caucuses in nine days on February 3. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“This is the most important election in our lifetime and I’m proud there are so many candidates running for Congress who understand that real change comes from the bottom on up, not the top on down,” Sanders said Wednesday. “Jessica is a strong advocate for real change and together we will build a movement to transform this nation so that it works for all our people.”

Cuellar is the only Texas Democrat to serve on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and it has long been believed that he holds that coveted spot because of his ability to work with Republicans.

Many Democrats in South Texas, however, have openly criticized Cuellar for working too well with Republicans. This includes his previous support for funds to build a Southwest border wall, which other South Texas congressmen have opposed. Although Cuellar most recently voted against the $1.4 billion that was appropriated for the border wall, he did previously vote for border-wall funding.

President Trump’s administration last year announced that the border wall would completely encapsulate Cuellar’s hometown of Laredo and include 124 miles in Zapata and Webb counties.

Cisneros attended an MLK Day border wall protest march on Jan. 20 in Laredo, where many of the speakers slammed Trump and members of Congress who have openly supported the border wall.

Read a Border Report story on the MLK Day Laredo protest.

Cuellar, however, defended his campaign on Wednesday afternoon by citing the support he says he has from hundreds of prominent local officials. He told Border Report that Cisneros draws her support from mostly national political figures, like Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez.

“My opponent gets outside endorsements. I have over 225 local endorsements — from sheriffs to county commissioners to mayors. So my focus is on inside the district and not celebrities outside the district. And if you ask who are the public officials helping her inside the district, you’ll get the answer she doesn’t have anybody,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said that “96 percent” of Cisneros’ campaign funds “comes from outside the district — mainly from New York and California.”

“That is the big difference between the election: I’m inside the district. She’s outside the district,” Cuellar said.

In a statement, Cisneros said Cuellar “voted with Donald Trump nearly 70 percent of the time,” and said he has received thousands of dollars from energy and gas companies while voting to lift environmental safeguards.

Cuellar is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, an organization “dedicated to the financial stability and national security of the country, notwithstanding partisan political positions and personal fortune,” according to the group’s mission statement.

Cisneros interned for Cuellar in 2014.

The Democratic primary election in Texas is March 3.

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