Liberal groups demanded the resignation of a top House Democrat on Thursday after he was caught on a secret recording trying to strong-arm a progressive candidate to nix his congressional campaign and clear the way for party leaders’ preferred pick to win.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, told Levi Tillemann, a Democrat running in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, to drop out because “a judgment was made very early on” that opposing candidate Jason Crow, an Army veteran, was the party’s choice to take on a vulnerable Republican.
The recording, which Mr. Tillemann released to the Intercept news website, has infuriated pressure groups who say it’s the latest example of party leaders undercutting progressives, just as they did in the 2016 presidential race by backing Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
“There is a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and Steny Hoyer and his corporate cronies already lost,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which quickly sent out a fundraising email over the dustup.
In the edited recording, secretly taped in December, Mr. Hoyer signaled the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party organization dedicated to winning House races, had picked sides.
“So your position is a decision was made very early on before voters had a say, that’s fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate?” Mr. Tillemann asks.
Mr. Hoyer responds, “That’s certainly a consequence of our decision.”
Mr. Hoyer’s office did not respond to a request for comment but Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her lieutenant and said he was just delivering the political “realities of life.”
“Some candidates can do better in the general than others,” the California Democrat said. “That’s a clear-eyed conversation that we should be having.”
Mr. Tillemann told Democracy Now! that the party’s intervention showed “Washington insiders” were trying to protect their interests.
“They are pumping money for its candidates who are going to fight for corporations and Wall Street and the establishment,” he said.
Activists said party voters should be allowed their say on candidates.
They hearkened back to the Clinton-Sanders primary, when the Democratic National Committee was actively working to derail Mr. Sanders — but said problems began long before that.
“We saw what happens when Democratic Party leaders put their fingers on the scale in primaries in 2006 through 2016, when we lost nearly 1,000 elected offices up and down the ballot,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.
In the 2018 election season, progressives say national Democrats have intervened in races in Texas, Kansas, California, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
The winner of the Democratic primary in Colorado in will face off against Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who analysts say is one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents.
He has raised $1.7 million and has nearly $1.2 million on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Mr. Crow, meanwhile, has outraised Mr. Tillemann by $923,000 and has almost $800,000 more than him in the bank.
The dustup might help Mr. Tillemann. After the DCCC attempted to pick a candidate in a heated Texas congressional primary last month, the liberal groups’ choice, Laura Moser, saw a surge of fundraising and managed to reach a May 22 runoff for the party’s nomination.
A big loser from the secret recording, meanwhile, could be Mr. Hoyer, who has long signaled an interest in replacing Mrs. Pelosi when she retires.
Mr. Chamberlain said Mr. Hoyer no longer deserves that chance.
“It’s time for him to recognize that only thing that’s truly not viable is his leadership role in a House Democratic caucus that depends on an enthusiastic grass-roots progressive base for its majority,” he said. “Steny Hoyer should resign or be removed from House Democratic leadership immediately.”