Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) on Tuesday revealed more details about the GOP effort to have him jump parties, saying a handful of Republicans — including a sitting member of Congress — were part of the pressure campaign to have him join the GOP following his easy victory in last week’s midterm elections.
They did not offer him anything specific, such as a committee chairmanship, Cuellar said, but instead extended him an open-ended enticement.
“They just said, ‘Name your price,'” Cuellar told reporters in the Capitol.
His response was simple. “No, thank you,” he said.
Cuellar is among the most moderate Democrats in Congress. And The Wall Street Journal first reported this week that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is facing an internal revolt from conservatives in his bid to become the next Speaker, sought to bring Cuellar into the Republican tent to help him seize the gavel.
Cuellar on Tuesday clarified that McCarthy did not approach him directly, but at least four other Republicans did, he said, including “one member, a couple folks from K Street [and] a former member.”
He did not name names.
Cuellar has long been a target of Republicans in a heavily Catholic South Texas district that borders Mexico for hundreds of miles, and this year was no exception. The Republicans’ campaign arm spent millions of dollars supporting his opponent, Republican Cassy Garcia, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), only to see Cuellar prevail in a landslide.
The GOP’s solicitation of Cuellar was not overlooked by Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, who accused Republicans of “desperate” hypocrisy for courting a lawmaker they had so recently attacked on the campaign trail.
“The nerve of these individuals. And how desperate are they that they literally just spent millions of dollars mischaracterizing Henry Cuellar’s leadership and talked about the emergence of a red wave in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), head of the House Democratic Caucus.
“Then [they] get wiped out by Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez and want to run to them saying, ‘We need your help because we’re struggling, because the American people rejected our extremism,'” he added.
Cuellar’s tougher challenge this year came from liberals in his own party, who have long criticized his position on several hot-button social issues, including abortion rights and gun reform.
Cuellar’s primary challenge in the last two cycles has come from a liberal former staffer, Jessica Cisneros, who came within 300 votes of defeating him this year. The contest against Garcia was much more lopsided: He won by more than 20,000 votes.
Cuellar, an 18-year veteran of Congress, said this year was hardly the first time he’s been approached by Republicans with offers to switch parties. “I’ve been asked to do that since I was in the state legislature,” he said.
And his response is always the same.
“No,” he said. “I’m a Democrat.”