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May 26 | 2022
It’s a race that has some Democratic voters scratching their heads: a young, progressive primary challenger versus a pro-life, conservative Democrat who received an A-rating from the NRA. The primary race between one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Representative Henry Cuellar, and Jessica Cisneros has become a lightning rod within the Democratic Party.
Cuellar declared victory, but as of Wednesday morning, major media outlets have said the race is too close to call. He is just a couple hundred votes ahead of his Cisneros in Texas' 28th Congressional District primary. When neither candidate won a majority in the March 1 primary, the two highest vote-getters faced each other in Tuesday's run-off election.
Top House Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) backed Cuellar despite his status as the only self-identified pro-life Democrat in the Senate.
Cisneros, 29, was supported by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the young progressive seized on the news of the Supreme Court leak to overturn Roe v. Wade. She closed the gap between her and Cuellar from two percentage points on March 1 to a photo finish on Tuesday.
Abortion, Gun Safety At Issue
Key issues for the Democrats this fall, abortion and gun violence, are central to Texas politics. Texas Republicans are leading the pack to peel back abortion rights, and on Tuesday a gunman killed 19 children and 2 teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Cisneros attempted to paint Cuellar as a conservative Democrat who would hurt the Democrats’ chance of passing key legislation.
“There's so many key issues where he's always siding with Republicans, and he could become the Joe Manchin of the House. We don't want Henry Cuellar to be the deciding vote on the future of our fundamental freedoms and rights in this country. We just can't risk that,” Cisneros told Meet the Press.
For his part, Cuellar tried to thread the needle, claiming he does not run on his pro-life views and focuses on other important issues.
Top Democrats like Pelosi have come under fire from the progressive wing of their party for directing significant resources to Cuellar’s campaign.
As reported by The American Prospect, a Super PAC with former consultants for President Obama, President Biden, and Senator Sanders donated $241,000 to Cuellar’s campaign. Cuellar also regularly highlighted his endorsements from Pelosi, Clyburn, and Hoyer,
Cuellar came under fire not just for his conservative political views, but also for an FBI raid on his home just a month before the March 1 primary. The FBI raided Cuellar’s home as part of an investigation related to Azerbaijan, but the FBI and Department of Justice have been tight-lipped about the status of the probe.
The race put divisions within the Democratic Party on display. And questions remain as to whether those disputes can be set aside before the general election in November -- and whether progresssives will line up with party leaders.
Ocasio-Cortez not only backed Cisneros, but she has spoken out harshly against Cuellar and Democratic leadership. She called the race “an utter failure of leadership," adding, “Congress should not be an incumbent protection racket.”
She continued on Twitter, “on the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it.”
Cisneros was seen as a potential new member of the Squad, a group of more progressive female representatives that has faced backlash from Democratic leadership. Nonetheless, the group has fallen in line with party politics more than conservative Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
But disagreement over primaries has been a regular source of discord between the progressive wing of the party and party leadership. At the end of the day, the story will likely be that Democratic leadership saved Cuellar’s political career. But, the battle between these two wings of the Democratic Party is far from resolved.
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Fox News responded to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, by interviewing experts who pushed controversial, counterproductive models to reduce gun violence in schools. One of these experts advocated for introducing more weapons into schools through arming teachers and staff, a policy firmly rejected by teachers unions and researchers. Another called for increased active shooter response trainings-- a service his company provides -- which have also been found to be ineffective at preventing casualties.
As news out of Uvalde was still developing, Fox News’ Jesse Watters invited Laura Carno -- the executive director of FASTER Colorado, which advocates for arming school staff -- on his show, where she compared arming teachers and other school personnel to arming pilots. “We all feel really comfortable with the armed pilot program, where some pilots are armed on some flights,” Carno said. “We don't know which ones, and we feel pretty good about that. It's a very similar kind of thing to armed school staff programs.”
Whatever the relative merits of arming pilots, it’s patently obvious that a classroom is fundamentally different from a locked and sealed cockpit. There is a litany of examples of guns being mishandled in schools, both by on-grounds cops — known as security resource officers — as well as teachers and staff, according to the Giffords Law Center. The center also found that an overwhelming percentage of students, teachers, and parents oppose arming school staff.
Both major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), also oppose the idea. There’s also a strong argument to be made that Black and Latino students would be put at increased risk with the introduction of more guns, as they are the students who are more likely to be punished than white students for the same behavior.
Watters also invited Chad Ayers, vice president of the Proactive Response Group, to discuss the shooting. Proactive provides active shooter response trainings to “workplaces, religious establishments, and schools,” which it calls “the true first line of defense.” Ayers used the occasion to suggest students are not doing enough to identify “early warning signs” to stop such shootings, arguing that “kids are afraid of being the school snitch.”
“We have to do a better job training,” Ayers added, implicitly advocating for more active shooter response trainings. “Showing a 5-minute video at the beginning of the school year to the teachers is not getting the job done.”
A recent study conducted by Everytown, an anti-gun violence organization, alongside the AFT and NEA, “concluded that there is almost no research affirming the value of active shooter drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.”
Other research has found that “anxiety, stress, and depression increased by 39–42% following the drills.” This study concluded that the findings, “paired with the lack of strong evidence that drills save lives, suggests that proactive school safety strategies may be both more effective, and less detrimental to mental health, than drills.” The nation’s largest for-profit active shooter training provider, ALICE Training Institute, regularly overstated its program’s efficacy, according to an investigation from The Trace.
Although there’s little evidence to show that active shooter response trainings are effective, there’s plenty of incentives for cops and former cops to push them as the primary response. The school safety industry was reportedly a $2.7 billion market in 2018, with some training programs running as high as $56,000 for the initial round and $25,000 for training renewals.
Fox News has a history of advocating flawed responses to school shootings. In 2015, a Fox & Friends segment demonstrated how students should rush a shooter, without making it clear that such an action should only be taken as a last resort.
Fox News wasn’t the only example of right-wing media pushing these flawed responses. Fox News competitor Newsmax interviewed at least one active shooter response trainer as well, and conservative pundit Erick Erickson endorsed FASTER in a tweet.
The United States accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, even though it has about five percent of the global population. In 2019, the United States spent $123 billion on police. More guns and more funding to law enforcement and their private contractor partners is not the answer. Effective measures, such as early intervention, decreasing access to guns, and increasing the number of counselors and mental health professionals in schools, would likely do far more to reduce gun violence at school than doubling down on security theater.
In the longer term, the most effective way to reduce this kind of violence is to take aim at the root, which would mean radically lessening the number of guns on the streets, including those carried by police officers.
But don’t expect to hear any of that on Fox News.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
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