The chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm is in hot water with pro-choice advocates for saying Democratic candidates for office do not have to support abortion rights.
In an interview with The Hill published on Monday, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico said abortion is not a “litmus test” for affiliation with the party.
“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Mr. Lujan, who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”
He said Democrats need a “broad coalition” to pick up the 24 seats required to take back the House in 2018.
The remark irked rank-and-file Democrats and pro-choice activists alike.
Howard Dean, who headed the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009, denounced the campaign committee’s stance in a tweet on Monday.
“I’m afraid I’ll be with holding support for the DCCC if this is true,” Mr. Dean said.
Laura Moser, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Texas’ 7th District, said “women’s rights are no more negotiable to Democrats than racial equality or LGBT rights.”
Renee Bracey Smith, a board member at NARAL Pro-Choice America, called out Mr. Lujan by name.
“I had an abortion. I’d love to chat with you about why my healthcare access is up for debate to win elections,” Ms. Sherman tweeted. “Let’s talk.”
“What better strategy than to betray their base and reaffirm that women’s basic rights are negotiable and disposable,” chimed in prominent progressive author Jill Filipovic.
How much weight to give abortion has been a major source of contention among Democrats in the wake of the general election.
The party endorsed its most radical stance on abortion in 2016, adding to its platform for the first time a commitment to repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding for abortion.
But some in the party have blamed its losses, including dwindling representation in state legislatures and governor’s mansions, on making social rather than economic issues paramount.
That rift was on display in April when Heath Mello, a pro-life Catholic, won the Democratic nomination in the Omaha, Nebraska, mayor’s race.
NARAL and others in the abortion industry slammed the party for supporting Mr. Mello’s candidacy, and DNC Chairman Tom Perez responded by demanding ideological purity on abortion going forward.
“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Mr. Perez said at the time. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
But several party leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, broke ranks, saying they oppose establishing a test for entry into the party.
“I am strongly pro-choice,” Ms. Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and a progressive hero, said at the time. “I am strongly pro-choice, and I will fight. But that’s not how everyone in the party feels.”
Indeed, anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of Democrats identify as pro-life, according to Democrats for Life.
In the Omaha mayor’s race, Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, continued to campaign for Mr. Mello despite the backlash from the pro-choice lobby. In the wake of the presidential race, he said Democrats must learn how to be a “50-state party.”
“I think what is clear to anyone who looks at where the Democratic Party [is] today is that the model of the Democratic Party is failing.”