Top aides leave Dem campaign arm amid diversity complaints

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Cheri Bustos

FILE – In this Jan. 4, 2019 file photo, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., walks to a group photo with the women of the 116th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. A mass departure of top aides is shaking House Democrats’ campaign arm after Hispanic and black members of Congress complained that the staff lacked diversity. Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos is chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She’s issued a statement saying she’d ‘fallen short’ and would work to make the staff ‘truly inclusive.’ (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A mass departure of top aides shook the House Democrats’ campaign arm Tuesday, an exodus that followed complaints from Hispanic and black lawmakers that the organization’s staff lacked diversity and that came amid a war of words between the party and President Donald Trump over race.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement late Monday that she had “fallen short” and promised to “work tirelessly to ensure that our staff is truly inclusive.” Executive Director Allison Jaslow announced her departure Monday, and a DCCC aide said five other senior aides had also resigned hours later.

The tumult comes as race has become a partisan battlefield, following a series of Twitter attacks by Trump on House Democrats of color. In his latest blasts, he has disparaged Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and his city of Baltimore, which is majority black, as a “disgusting” place where “no human being would want to live.”

The shakeup also occurred as both parties are already fundraising and recruiting candidates for the elections in 2020, when Democrats will be defending their House majority. The DCCC outspent its counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, in 2018 elections that saw Democrats gain House control after eight years in the minority.

Lawmakers complaining about the DCCC’s staff have included Texas Democratic Reps. Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez and Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Bustos spent Tuesday talking about how to address the problem with leaders of House caucuses representing Hispanics, blacks and other minority groups and with Democratic incumbents expected to face competitive reelection races, the DCCC aide said.

The aide provided supportive statements from several lawmakers, including Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., former head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Richmond said he was happy see Bustos “hear the concerns of her colleagues and tackle issues of diversity and inclusion head on.”

A House leadership aide said top Democrats largely faulted the now-departed Jaslow for not quickly responding to the complaints. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly, said leaders did not believe Bustos should leave her post.

Bustos, 57, became chairwoman of the campaign committee following the 2018 elections, arguing she would be effective because she has represented a swing district that supported Trump in 2016 and knew how to win in such areas. Democrats owed their 2018 triumph to winning closely divided districts, especially in suburbs.

Hispanic lawmakers became disenchanted after Bustos replaced top staffers, including many minorities, with aides who were largely white, said an aide to Gonzalez who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. New committee leaders often name longtime aides to their staffs.

In a statement last weekend, Gonzalez and Vela said the DCCC was “in complete chaos.” They said Bustos should appoint a person of color to be executive director “to restore confidence in the organization and to promote diversity.”

Fudge also told Politico, which first reported about the DCCC’s disarray, about her unhappiness regarding the committee’s lack of diversity.

“It is shocking, and something needs to be done about it,” she said.

Gabrielle Brown, spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus, said black House lawmakers have been holding meetings with DCCC officials for months and expressing similar concerns.

None of the lawmakers complained about the DCCC’s performance this year in raising money and finding candidates to challenge Republicans, the committee’s main job.

But liberals in and out of Congress were angered when Bustos announced the DCCC would not do business with political consultants who help Democrats challenging incumbent House Democrats. Much of DCCC’s money comes from dues paid by House Democrats, and incumbents have argued that an organization they finance should not give some of its lucrative business to consultants who work for challengers trying to unseat them.

Many Democrats were also unhappy when Bustos planned to attend an event in support of fellow Illinois Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, an abortion opponent and one of the most conservative House Democrats. Bustos ended up not attending.

Jaslow, an Iraq War veteran, said in a statement that “sometimes selfless service means having the courage to take a bow for the sake of the mission — especially when the stakes are so high.”

Bustos has appointed a council of aides to search for a permanent replacement for Jaslow.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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