As Democrats fight to hang on to their House majority, the party’s campaign arm is facing some pretty big conflicts of its own.
Following uproar about the lack of diversity among senior staffers, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted a massive shake-up of its top officials this week, according to Politico.
DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos framed these departures — which started with executive director Allison Jaslow resigning during what Politico called a “tense meeting” Monday and grew to include communications director Jared Smith and political director Molly Ritner — as addressing the organization’s issues with representation. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus had been growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of diversity in Bustos’s leadership team, and she and another staffer had been called out for some seemingly tone-deaf comments.
In a statement about the staffing changes, Bustos vowed to improve inclusion at the DCCC, and acknowledged that she may have “fallen short” in her leadership.
“Today, I recognize that, at times, I have fallen short in leading these talented individuals, but I’ve never been more committed to expanding and protecting this majority, while creating a workplace that we can all be proud of,” Bustos wrote in a statement, shared by Politico. “I know we must do better, and I will work tirelessly to ensure that our staff is truly inclusive.”
The blowback she’s experienced on this issue is just the latest concern lawmakers have expressed about her time at the DCCC, which some described as an organization in “chaos.” A policy she implemented earlier this year, blacklisting consultants who opt to work with campaigns challenging current incumbents, has also seen major backlash.
The DCCC’s dramatic staff overhaul comes at a pivotal moment for the party as it tries to defend an array of seats in 2020. It’s also an indication of how much many Democrats are prioritizing diversity, among both lawmakers and the party’s staff.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have expressed concerns about DCCC diversity
Bustos, a four-term lawmaker from a moderate district in Illinois, was elected as DCCC chair following Democrats’ overwhelming success in the 2018 midterms. Her role includes leading recruitment efforts for 2020, fundraising for the party, and developing strategy for upcoming House races.
According to the Washington Post, many were surprised when Bustos took the job and brought on a slew of mostly white senior staffers. Given the importance of growing representation among House members, Democratic lawmakers were concerned, they told the Post.
As a Politico story detailed last week, those worries didn’t exactly go away, and only grew after a media report uncovered some unsavory tweets by a recently promoted DCCC official. These revelations culminated in even broader outcry from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“There is not one person of color — black or brown, that I’m aware of — at any position of authority or decision-making in the DCCC,” Rep. Marcia Fudge, a former CBC chair, told Politico.
“The single most immediate action that Cheri Bustos can take to restore confidence in the organization and to promote diversity is to appoint a qualified person of color, of which there are many, as executive director at once,” wrote Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Velam and CHC members, in a statement this past weekend.
While the DCCC told Politico last week that “nearly 50 percent of the senior staff identifies as racially diverse,” the organization did not share the name of a single person of color in such roles when pressed. Now many of the organization’s senior staffers are gone.
The DCCC’s consultant policy is also seen as harming candidates of color
Concerns about the DCCC’s staffing diversity have boiled over after the organization implemented a new policy about consultants earlier this year. That policy, which initially started as a diversity initiative, barred campaign consultants — including advertising firms and direct mail companies — from working with any candidates who are challenging current House incumbents. Those who did so would be blacklisted from other jobs with the DCCC.
Bustos had framed the policy as a means of protecting current members of the Democratic caucus, but it’s been widely perceived as an effort to limit new voices in the House. Because of this, the policy is seen as actively restricting the candidacies of women and people of color, prompting backlash from numerous progressive groups.
As Vox’s Tara Golshan previously reported, many prominent House progressives are among those who have taken issue with the policy, especially because they won by challenging incumbents themselves:
Ocasio-Cortez is one extremely notable example. She beat out Joe Crowley, a New York Democratic Party boss who had even been tapped as a possible successor to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Another is Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), who beat out Boston Democrat Mike Capuano.
Both Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez, with the support of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the DCCC’s decision a “divisive” policy and an effort to “blacklist” groups.
“If I waited my turn, I wouldn’t be here,” Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) also previously told the New York Times while discussing the detrimental effects of the vendor policy. “There is a gatekeeper mentality that sometimes can diminish new ideas.”
The DCCC’s latest shake-up suggests the organization still has a lot of work to when it comes to solidifying its commitment to diversity.