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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Reporter's Notebook: President Trump's scrapped NATO press conference

LONDON — President Donald Trump’s oversees travels are never short on unscripted moments. But the president's decision to scrap a scheduled press conference, after NATO meetings ended, with reporters waiting in the room for it to start was a surprising move, even for Trump.

Early in the morning Wednesday, dozens of reporters were bused out by the White House to the location of the NATO gatherings being held more than an hour from London to attend the event.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Donald Trump attend the annual NATO Leaders Meeting at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain Dec. 4, 2019.Jeremy Selwyn / Reuters

Two hours before the press conference was scheduled to start, television crews were in place and dozens of reporters were seated in the room where the event would be held when the president, unprompted, suggested he might not have a press conference.

“We will go directly back, I think we have done plenty of press conferences unless you’re demanding a press conference, but I think we’ve answered plenty of questions,” President Trump told the traveling press pool, the small group of reporters that travel with him, during a photo opportunity with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump had spent about two hours over the course of the previous day taking questions from the press pool. But that small group consisting of about 13 journalists is no substitute for the full White House press corp which includes hundreds of reporters from a range of media outlets.

The president’s remark about the press conference set off mass confusion for the next hour among White House staff, both with the president and with the press, who didn’t know whether he was serious about the change of plans. Reporters were sent scrambling to figure out what was happening and sources were unreachable.

Even after Trump had suggested the press conference was off, NATO staff on-site and security continued to prepare for the president’s arrival, at one point setting up a rope line for additional security in front of the stage where he was set to speak.

It wasn’t until the president tweeted an hour later that reporters and staff were told by the president the event was off. At the time, dozens of reporters were seated in the room where it was to be held and others were waiting at a media center for staff to escort them over.

Following the scrapped press conference, Trump was also overheard mocking what he expected the media’s reaction to be during the same meeting where Trump complimented himself on his jab at Trudeau. 

“Oh. And then you know what they’ll say?” Trump said. “‘He didn’t do a press conference! He didn’t do a press conference!’” 

As Trump was preparing to leave, other leaders, including Macron and Trudeau, held their own press conferences — giving them a moment to look presidential on the world stage that Trump had denied himself of. 

Sally Bronston contributed. 

Joe Biden says he'd consider Kamala Harris for VP pick

AMES, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden has often said on the campaign trail that he would prefer to pick a woman as his vice presidential pick — on Wednesday he went a step further and said former 2020 competitor Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., would be on his list to consider. 

“Of course I would. Look Senator Harris has the capacity to be anything she wants to be. I mean it sincerely. I talked to her yesterday,” he said. “She's solid, she can be president someday herself, she can be vice president, she could go on to be a Supreme Court justice, she could be attorney general. I mean she has enormous capability.”

Biden and Harris' relationship became more strained after Harris attacked Biden on his position on busing during the first Democratic debate in June. The pair first met when Biden’s late son Beau was attorney general of Delaware and Harris held the same position in California. 

On Wednesday, Biden indicated he has moved past that moment. 

“I’m not good at keeping hard feelings,” he said while boarding his ‘No Malarkey’ bus.

 

Swelling staff size and shrinking media spending predated Harris' exit from presidential race

WASHINGTON — When California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris suspended her campaign on Tuesday, she made it clear she felt her cash-strapped organization could no longer support a bid for president. 

"Over the last few days, I’ve come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. So here’s the deal, guys. My campaign for president simply does not have the financial resources to continue — and the financial resources we need to continue," she said in a video posted to Twitter.

"I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it has become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete. 

There had been signs as of late that Harris' campaign was struggling — she cut staff this fall as her campaign sought to reset by shifting many of its resources to Iowa, and a recent New York Times story cited interviews with "more than 50 current and former campaign staff members and allies" to paint a picture of a floundering operation. 

While finances are likely a piece of a larger puzzle (and we won't see Harris' fourth-quarter books until early next year), a look through campaign spending reports sheds light on what Harris meant when she pointed the finger at a dwindling bank account. 

Harris jumped into the race as one of the best-funded and highest-polling candidates, an early frontrunner in the months before it was certain that former Vice President Joe Biden would enter the race.

She spent the first three months of her campaign in third place in the RealClearPolitics polling average and raised more money from individuals ($12 million) than any other candidate except Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in the first quarter of 2019. 

Harris kept up that pace with a robust fundraising schedule, one that kept her from pivotal early states for significant stretches. 

And at her campaign's nadir (after her viral clash with Biden on the June debate stage on the issue of race and busing), she flirted with that second-place spot behind Biden. 

That marquee moment helped to fill the campaign's coffers — she raised almost $2 million during just the day after the June debate. And the campaign used those resources to massively expand the number of salaried staff from about 160 by the end of June to about 315 by the end of October, according to an NBC News analysis of FEC reports. 

But such a massive staff can be a strain on resources, as indicated by the Harris campaign's late October announcement that it was cutting staff in order to "effectively compete with the top campaigns and make the necessary investments in the critical final 100 days to the caucus," as campaign manager Juan Rodriguez said in a memo

Another sign of Harris' struggle could be seen in her media spending. 

The campaign spent just $562,000 on TV and radio advertising over her entire campaign, millions behind the likes of Biden, Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had at one point been fighting with Harris for a top polling spot. 

In fact, her campaign hadn't run a television advertisement since Sept. 6, according to media-tracker Advertising Analytics. 

And the situation on Facebook was dire too. She spent just $32,000 for ads on the platform since early October, virtually disappearing from the platform in her campaign's final weeks. By comparison, billionaire Tom Steyer spent $4.3 million over that span, while Buttigieg and Warren both spent more than $800,000. 

Outside allies were moving to give the California senator reinforcements — the pro-Harris super PAC People Standing Strong booked more than $500,000 in pro-Harris ads Tuesday morning. 

But by Tuesday afternoon, with their candidate officially out of the race, the group began cancelling those buys.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp taps Kelly Loeffler to fill Sen. Isakson's seat

WASHINGTON — Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Wednesday tapped business executive Kelly Loeffler as his pick to fill outgoing Sen. Johnny Isakson's seat, angering some of the President Trump's allies who were hoping Kemp would choose Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., instead. 

Last week, Kemp called attacks on his pick "absolutely absurd" and that he would only pick a candidate who was "100% supportive" of president Trump. 

Fox News host and close ally of the president Sean Hannity this week described Loeffler as a "RINO", or Republican In Name Only" while asking why Kemp would appoint Loeffler over Collins who has been a strong defender of the president throughout the impeachment hearings.

Loeffler, however, seems poised to introduce herself as a strong supporter of the president.

In a prepared statement on the appointment, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Loeffler will say, "I’m a lifelong conservative. Pro-Second Amendment. Pro-military. Pro-wall. And pro-Trump." Loeffler has never run for office or served in government. 

Collins has not closed the door on running for the seat in 2020 against Loeffler, telling reporters in November he has heard from those "encouraging" him to run for statewide office and he is "strongly" listening. 

Loeffler will be only the second female senator from Georgia. The first, Rebecca Latimer Felton, was the first woman to occupy a seat in the Senate but served for just one day. 

Senate Republicans have welcomed the pick. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement, "Ms. Loeffler has an impressive record in business and community leadership. I am confident she is well prepared to continue Sen. Isakson’s historic legacy of advocating for veterans, strengthening our national defense, and fighting for middle-class families." 

And the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Loeffler was a "phenomenal pick."

"Her business acumen and leadership gives Georgia a unique and valuable voice in the U.S. Senate who can help President Trump and our Republican majority continue to bolster a record-breaking economy, strengthen our military and confirm Constitutionalist judges," the NRSC said in a statement. 

The president has not yet weighed in on the appointment. Isakson is leaving his seat at the end of the month due to health concerns, and Loeffler will be up for reelection next November. 

Pete Buttigieg earns endorsement from VoteVets PAC

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg Wednesday received the endorsement of the progressive VoteVets PAC.

“The number one priority has to be beating Donald Trump,” said Jon Soltz, chair of VoteVets. “We need a candidate who will win. Bar none, Pete gives us the best shot at doing just that. It is time to rally around him, and stop the walking, talking national security threat that is Donald Trump.”  

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall event in Creston, Iowa on Nov. 25, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters

Soltz went on to say that a veteran like Buttigieg gives Democrats the best shot to win in 2020 because, "Veterans can win voters in the purple and red areas of the country that other Democrats cannot." 

The only other veteran in the Democratic contest is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. 

This endorsement means Buttigieg now has the support of a Super PAC behind him to help fund his campaign. Of the four top polling candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is the only one who does not have an outside organization in a position to spend money on her behalf.

VoteVets will immediately cut a maximum donation check to Pete 2020, according to the press release, and will utilize its social media networks and email list to support the campaign’s message.

“Further plans to energize veterans and military families across the country will be unveiled as the campaign moves ahead,” the group said in the statement.

Last month, Buttigieg told NBC News he would not take “corporate PAC money.”

“I also think it is really important that there be transparency in terms of people understanding who your supporters are which the reporting system creates but is why dark money is such a problem when you are looking at what goes on at the Super PACs,” he added.

However in October, Buttigieg said in an interview with Snapchat that he didn't endorse Warren's plan to refuse any money from high-dollar donors in a general election. 

"We're not going to beat [President Trump] with pocket change.” Buttigieg said. “I think you need the full spectrum of support in order to compete, especially if we want to go against someone like Donald Trump."

Pete Buttigieg looks to win over black voters during Carolina swing

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Presidential hopeful South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg dismissed his low polling figures among nonwhite voters as a consequence of being “new on the scene,"  to a room of predominantly black South Carolinians on Tuesday.

“I know that as somebody who is new on the scene I got to earn that trust. We have to have those conversations. We got to share our own city's story where we have had the good, the bad and the in-between in terms of the life of our own city," Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg is leading polls in Iowa and hovering near the top of polls in New Hampshire. But in South Carolina, he's struggling to gain traction. On Tuesday, he finished a three-day swing through the Carolinas, in an effort to expand his reach. 

Buttigieg, like other contenders in the Democratic race are struggling to gain traction with African-American voters. In a Quinnipiac national poll released last week, former Vice President Joe Biden maintained a large lead with black voters with 43 percent support, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was in second with only 11 percent. Buttigieg garnered just 4 percent support among black voters. 

While speaking to a a group in Allendale County, S.C., where three-quarters of the population is African-American, Buttigieg wasn't the first speaker attendees wanted to engaged with. Willa Jennings, the county party chairwoman, directed the group’s opening question to Buttigieg’s guest at the meeting: South Bend Councilwoman Sharon McBride.

“Could you tell us some of the things that Mayor Pete has done in South Bend to benefit the citizens in your city?” Jennings queried. "We go out and vote in full force, but everybody forget about us and they don't come back anymore."

McBride asserted that Buttigieg pushed to increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, initiated a study on disparities in the cities among women and minorities, and pressed for increased investments in city housing infrastructure.

Jennings, taking the microphone back, then turned to Buttigieg: “I hear a lot about you don't have support from African Americans. I just want to know why you don't have that support, and where did they get—where did the news media get that idea from that you don't have support?”

Buttigieg acknowledged, in part, that he was one of the candidates at “five percent or less” among black voters in the “last poll.” He followed, “But I don't think that's permanent."

Earlier in the day, Buttigieg stopped at a farm owned by Sophia Bowman in Canadys, S.C. After her meeting Buttigieg, Bowman said that she is inclined to vote for the mayor. She said it reminded her of seeing Bill Clinton in 1992. She noted they both "spoke with clarity.” 

“If other South Carolinians get to hear him, I think he’s got a chance,” Bowman rationalized. “Priming the pump. Us, here in the South, [we are] regular people. It takes awhile for us to like you.” 

But some younger voters say they are looking for more from Buttigieg’s efforts to build a closer relationship with communities of color. 

During a visit to South Carolina State University, a historically black university, Charles Patton a 22-year-old senior pulled the mayor aside about an answer Buttigieg gave during the November debate in which he referenced his experience as a gay man when asked about the systemic oppression communities of color have endured.

“Sometimes when you speak I hear what you say when you talk about your experience as a gay man and how you got the right to marry and all those things, but it comes across as you comparing struggles,” Patton said.

Later, Patton told NBC News, "When you compare struggles, you're almost erasing the struggle or, or the experience of being black in America and you almost diminish it because, yes, you are gay, but you're still a white man in America, and he knows that."

The Buttigieg campaign launched a $2 million ad buy across South Carolina on Tuesday intended to juice up voters’ familiarity with the mayor. The latest Quinnipiac poll out of the state showed that 47 percent of South Carolina voters are still not familiar enough with Buttigieg to form an opinion.

That extends outside of South Carolina, too.

In neighboring North Carolina, where voters will weigh in on Super Tuesday, Almertia Williams, a consistent voter, told NBC News this summer that she was eyeing the candidacies of Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris. When NBC News asked about Buttigieg she said she "did not" know he was running. 

“You got to show up, and you got to show up in places that maybe haven’t heard from campaigns for awhile,” Buttigieg told NBC News after a Sunday church service in North Carolina. “We take the opportunity and that obligation seriously. And you’ll continue to see that from us.”

NBC's Matt Wargo contributed. 

Incoming Dem chair on the 2020 gov races: “I think we’re going to have a good year”

WASHINGTON — The upcoming elections in 2020 will bring us the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the general-election presidential contest and the battle for control of Congress.

It also will feature 11 contests for governor in states like New Hampshire, Vermont, Montana and Washington.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the incoming chair of the Democratic Governors Association, says he’s bullish about his party’s chances in next year’s gubernatorial contests, building upon Democrats’ successes in 2017 (when Murphy won his race), in 2018 (when Democrats picked up seven governorships) and in 2019 (when they won in Kentucky and Louisiana).

“I think we’re going to have a good year,” Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Monday afternoon.

“I think it’s a combination of outstanding candidates, speaking to the kitchen-table issues that folks care about,” he added in explaining Democrats’ recent successful campaigns. “I think it’s a statement also that governors have never mattered more.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in January mandating that the state's schools include instruction on the contributions of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.Julio Cortez / AP

“So with all of the craziness that’s going on in Washington, governors are not only where the progress is being made in an affirmative, positive sense. But they’re also the last line of defense.”

Asked to reconcile those kitchen-table issues with his party’s impeachment proceedings against President Trump in Washington, Murphy said that Democrats and their candidates can do both at the same time.

 “I am proud of the process that [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi initiated on this impeachment track,” he stated.

“By the same token, I’m the governor of New Jersey. So let me get back to moving the needle on stuff that I know I can move the needle on.”

 Asked about Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who suspended his presidential campaign on Monday and can't run for an additional gubernatorial term thanks to term limits, Murphy said he’s surprised that a Democratic governor – either current or former – hasn’t “caught fire” in the 2020 presidential race.

“On both sides of the aisle, there’s a long history of governors who have gone on to be president or vice president, and I’m a little surprised that a governor on our side hasn’t caught fire,” Murphy noted.

“But having said that, we have extraordinary candidates. We have an extraordinary field.”

 Murphy has endorsed fellow Garden State politician and Sen. Cory Booker in the 2020 presidential race.

 “I came out of the blocks on day one for Cory Booker … and I’m staying with Cory as long as Cory is in,” he said. “But I’m going to be for whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be, period.”

The marquee gubernatorial contests of 2020 will be in North Carolina (where Dem Gov. Roy Cooper is running for re-election), in Montana (with the race to replace Bullock), in New Hampshire (where GOP Gov. Chris Sununu is running for re-election) and in Vermont (where GOP Gov. Phil Scott is running for re-election).

While Murphy and the DGA are bullish about their prospects in 2020, officials at the Republican Governors Association counter that Republicans are defending governorships in GOP-friendly states like Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

They also point out that New Hampshire’s Sununu and Vermont’s Scott won office in 2016 (when Hillary Clinton carried those blue states) and in 2018 (in a strong Democratic cycle).

 And the RGA believes Montana is theirs for the taking, given Trump’s 20-point win the state in 2016.

 “We feel very bullish about flipping Montana,” Dave Rexrode, the RGA’s executive director, told NBC News.

Klobuchar endorsed by former Bullock backer in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — Just one day after Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced he was dropping out of the Democratic presidential race, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., scooped up an endorsement from a prominent former Bullock backer, Iowa State Rep. Bruce Bearinger. 

During his campaign, Bullock consistently touted his record of winning in a Republican-heavy, rural state and his policy views that were seen as moderate in the wide Democratic field as proof of his ability to win the general election. Klobuchar also occupies much of that same territory and is often described as a moderate with a record in dealing with rural issues. She sits on the Agriculture Committee in the Senate and reminds voters at campaign events that she’s won “every race, every place, every time.”

Bearinger, who represents the rural population of Oelwein in Northeast Iowa, pointed to Klobuchar’s bipartisan track record and her knowledge of agricultural issues in expressing his support. 

“Amy understands that to win in 2020, and for the next President to govern successfully, our party has to reach out to voters who felt overlooked in 2016, particularly in rural America,” Bearinger said in a statement to NBC News.   

Bearinger was previously drawn to Bullock’s commitment to rural America, highlighting such in his original endorsement of the governor: “Steve understands the unique hardships we face — in our schools, hospitals and farms. Working with a legislature more Republican than our own, he’s proven he can bring those priorities across the finish line."

Bullock suspended his campaign Monday morning, after failing to qualify for multiple national debate stages.

Klobuchar proposes expansion of national service programs

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ahead of her 19th trip to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is rolling out a national service policy plan that seeks to create more service opportunities and enhance accessibility for programs across communities and the country at large.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

Klobuchar’s two-page plan centers on three key areas to support existing national service programs:

  • Investing in AmeriCorps, a Climate Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Peace Corps
  • Establishing National Volunteer Programs
  • Fixing and Expanding Public Service Loan Forgiveness

In order to further invest in existing programs and establish new ones, Klobuchar’s plan calls for investing in programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps by increasing the number of service positions and for targeting the opportunities towards high school students, 1-2 year degree college students or those with vocational training certifications.

She also is seeking to establish a Climate Civilian Conservation Corps — a climate national service program based off of an idea initially put forward by former presidential candidate and Washington Governor Jay Inslee — to recruit an additional 50,000 people “to address the impacts of climate change and create the climate resilience workforce of the future.”

Her plan also calls for establishing national volunteer programs, including a part-time volunteer service program centered on emergency response and disaster-relief training, as well as expanding the National Care Corps to support those who are working as caregivers by providing benefits and other support for costs.

Finally Klobuchar’s plan aims to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program by expanding the program’s eligibility, enhance clarity from lenders on details of eligibility and forgiveness, increase flexibility for lenders and streamline the verification requirements.

Klobuchar says that to pay for her national service plan that she will pass bipartisan legislation already introduced to the Senate to reduce single-use drug waste, citing studies that highlight the manufacturing of over-sized doses and discarded reimbursement costs for some drug products. 

Buttigieg unveils plan to target health care inequities

COLUMBIA, S.C. — With heath care continuing to be one of the key issues in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with a new plan focused on addressing inequality in the system.

The plan, titled, “Health Equity and Justice in America,” comes amid a Buttigieg campaign swing through the south, where the mayor has met with several groups to discuss the issue.

Reverend William Barber introduces Pete Buttigieg during Sunday morning service at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., on Dec. 1, 2019.Logan Cyrus / AFP - Getty Images

The policy places a heavy emphasis on measures that can be taken to ensure equity in health before someone reaches a hospital or clinic by addressing what Buttigieg calls, “structural barriers.”

“Most of our health outcomes are determined by what happens outside a clinic or hospital: by where we can live, what we can eat, and what jobs we have access to,” the plan states.

Buttigieg plans to adopt a “Health in All Policies” approach to policy implementation, establishing Offices of Health Equity and Justice within key federal agencies including Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The candidate aims to empower local public health departments by creating a Public Health Infrastructure Fund that would funnel more resources into communities with the most need. Under his plan the federal government would contribute $500 million increasing annually until the $4 billion a year gap between current spending and existing needs is met. Individual states would be required to match these funds on a sliding scale based on the median income of a given state.

A Buttigieg administration would require federally funded health programs to collect and monitor data related to healthcare quality, cost, and outcomes for specific demographics based on, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The administration would then use that data to award financial incentives based on measured equitable outcomes.

Within his first 100 days Buttigieg says he will launch a National Health Equity Strategy Task Force. In addition, he promises to invest in finding cures to diseases that disproportionately impact minority communities, in part by mandating that federally-funded research trials include diverse samples of people and communities.

This latest healthcare addendum comes months after the release of over-arching Buttigieg’s Medicare For All Who Want It policy which was announced in September.

Leading progressive groups endorse Rep. Henry Cuellar primary challenger

WASHINGTON — A coalition of prominent progressive groups has endorsed Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration lawyer who is trying to unseat Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar in a Democratic primary, NBC News has learned.

The Democratic primary fight, in a sprawling congressional district that extends south from the San Antonio suburbs down to Loredo on the border with Mexico, is quickly becoming one of the hottest flash-points in the party’s ideological civil war.

Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley have endorsed Cisneros, the latter two veterans of their own high-profile primary victories against entrenched incumbent Democrats last year. 

The latest show of support for Cisneros, who once briefly worked for Cuellar, shows major institutional players on the left are increasingly willing to buck tradition by going against a sitting lawmaker. 

The new coalition of groups supporting Cisneros Tuesday includes some of the leading reproductive rights groups in the country -- Planned Parenthood Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- along with the political arm of the deep-pocked environmental group League of Conservation Voters, the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, and the grassroots organizing group MoveOn.

“I'm proud to stand alongside so many incredible organizations leading the fight against the Trump administration’s hatred and bigotry,” Cisneros said in a statement shared with NBC News.

Cuellar, who first won his seat in 2004 after emerging from a nasty Democratic primary, has come under fire from the left for numerous votes and positions that critics say do not represent his heavily-Democratic, majority-Hispanic district. 

Cuellar, for instance, is one of just a tiny handful of House Democrats who has received an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He also voted with Republicans against so-called sanctuary cities, local jurisdictions that refuse to work with federal authorities to deport undocumented immigrants. 

And he's also taken votes against expanding abortion rights, including in support of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal spending on abortion services. 

“As anti-choice politicians continue to wage an all-out assault on the right to access abortion, it’s crucial that Democrats stand united in their commitment to reproductive freedom,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “Henry Cuellar’s record speaks for itself-- from his support for the discriminatory Hyde Amendment to extreme bans on abortion, he has made it clear just how dangerously out-of-touch he is.” 

Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, added in a statement that Cisneros is “committed to protecting people’s rights and has pledged to defend her constituents against attacks on those rights and freedoms.”

But Cuellar spokesperson Colin Strother told NBC News his boss is focused on his local constituents, not a national advocacy group and the opinion of “people from outside the district, who don’t know the district, and who can’t vote in the district.” 

“It’s unfortunate that so many of these so-called progressive groups are focused on some kind of a purification ritual that does nothing other than feed their ego and their donor base,” Strother added.

Cueller’s district has little risk of falling into Republican hands in 2020. It voted for Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in 2016. But some Democrats have warned that primary battles, even in safe districts, will distract the party from preserving its hard-won House majority next year.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of House Democrats, is anticipating more primary challenges to incumbent lawmakers in safe blue districts after Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory last year, and has vowed to stop working with any vendors who work with insurgent candidates.