Politico: DCCC in ‘complete chaos’ as uproar over diversity intensifies

“The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is in full-blown turmoil.” – Politico

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DCCC in ‘complete chaos’ as uproar over diversity intensifies
Heather Caygle, Laura Baron-Lopez, and Jake Sherman

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is in full-blown turmoil.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) was set to make an unplanned trip to Washington from her district Monday amid an outcry from top black and Latino lawmakers over a lack of diversity in the campaign arm’s senior management ranks.

Bustos’ sudden return to D.C., just days after Congress left for a six-week-long August recess, comes as aides and lawmakers are calling for systematic changes to the DCCC, the party’s main election organ.

POLITICO reported last week that black and Hispanic lawmakers are furious with Bustos’ stewardship of the campaign arm. They say the upper echelon of the DCCC is bereft of diversity, and it is not doing enough to reach Latino voters and hire consultants of color. In addition, several of Bustos’ senior aides have left in the first six months of her tenure, including her chief of staff — a black woman — and her director of mail and polling director, both women.

In the most dramatic move so far, Texas Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela told POLITICO Sunday that Bustos should fire her top aide, DCCC executive director Allison Jaslow.

“The DCCC is now in complete chaos,” the pair said in a statement to 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. We find the silence of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on this issue to be deafening.”

In response to the outcry, Bustos has agreed to participate in diversity and inclusion training for DCCC employees. An August training had previously been scheduled for just staff.

“Chairwoman Bustos is coming back because she understands how important it is for her to hear from staff directly and to reassure them that we have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion at every level,” said DCCC spokesman Jared Smith.

“She plans to approve changes to the structure before she leaves town and wants to get staff input as we work to build a stronger DCCC and make sure our team, from senior leadership on down, reflects the full range of diversity that gives the Democratic Party its strength,” Smith added. “She looks forward to reaching out to her colleagues to get their input, address their concerns and update them on the progress we are making.”

Bustos’ return to Washington comes on the heels of an emergency all-staff meeting Friday after the POLITICO story published. Jaslow cried as she assumed blame for the lack of diversity in the DCCC, according to multiple people in the room. Others felt the DCCC misled them in its handling of a staffer, Tayhlor Coleman, who posted derogatory tweets about LGBTQ people and Latinos nearly 10 years ago

The all-staff meeting was “very emotional all around,” according to a committee aide. Multiple employees of the campaign arm got visibly upset and at least one demanded to hear directly from Bustos about the ongoing issues. She was not present.

Some employees expressed anger during the meeting that the campaign arm’s executive and deputy directors are not people of color. Others complained that only a small number of people of color are in positions reporting directly to Jaslow, contrary to Bustos’ past promises to increase diversity in the senior DCCC ranks.

In addition, DCCC employees worried about how the lingering tensions with Democratic lawmakers would affect the campaign arm’s ability to collect member dues.

One current staffer complained that this is the third issue during Bustos’ tenure that caught employees off guard. The other two were a controversial vendor blacklist and outcry over a planned fundraiser with a Democrat who opposes abortion rights.

Democratic sources said an all-staff phone call with Bustos on Saturday didn’t go much better. The Illinois Democrat only “briefly” apologized for comments about her family’s racial background that had inflamed some lawmakers and DCCC employees. In response to complaints about the DCCC’s diversity, she has noted that her husband is of Mexican descent, that her children are half-Mexican and that her son is marrying an African-American woman.

Bustos’ senior team did acknowledge anger among staffers that they did not know about the POLITICO article before it published. They promised to have a better internal communication strategy moving forward, according to multiple sources who participated in the call.

Jaslow also defended Coleman, saying she’s “still proud to have Tayhlor working at the DCCC,” according to one person on the call.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told POLITICO he urged the DCCC to keep Coleman on staff, but advised she be moved to a different role. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) didn’t want Coleman to be fired either, but wanted her completely removed from any projects involving minorities. Still, Coleman has continued to work on minority outreach strategy.

But multiple Democratic sources said they left Saturday’s call feeling like little is actually being done to address the diversity issues that have been simmering for months, or that Bustos understands the totality of the problem.

Since POLITICO’s initial report, multiple Democratic lawmakers privately questioned the DCCC’s claim that 13 out of 27 senior staffers are racially diverse, saying only a few of those are actually working in the upper ranks of the campaign arm.

During the call Saturday, several staffers demanded an “immediate restructuring” of the senior DCCC leadership team to make it more diverse. Bustos and her allies committed to looking into the issue but multiple Democratic sources said it’s unclear what immediate actions, if any, Bustos intends to take.

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