WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The congresswoman who heads the campaign arm for U.S. House of Representatives Democrats has acknowledged mistakes after lawmakers complained about a lack of racial diversity within the organization, and she named a Cuban-American as interim executive director as part of a major staff shakeup.
The announcement by Representative Cheri Bustos late on Monday followed several days of turmoil at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a controversy that has sidetracked the organization as it seeks to expand the party’s majority in the House in the 2020 election.
Lawmakers who are members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have had multiple conversations with Bustos in recent months “to address concerns about diversity at the DCCC,” Alma Acosta, executive director of the caucus, said on Tuesday.
Politico reported last week that black and Hispanic lawmakers had complained that the DCCC was not recruiting or retaining non-white staffers in top positions.
“Today has been a sobering day filled with tough conversations that too often we avoid, but I can say confidently that we are taking the first steps toward putting the DCCC back on path to protect and expand our majority, with a staff that truly reflects the diversity of our Democratic caucus and our party,” Bustos, who is white, said in a statement.
Allison Jaslow, an Iraq war veteran and long-time Bustos ally, resigned as DCCC executive director on Monday. Five other senior staffers also left, including communications director Jared Smith, another long-time Bustos aide.
Bustos, who represents an Illinois congressional district won by Republican President Donald Trump in 2016, said she would be “owning my mistakes and learning from them,” pledging to work “tirelessly to ensure that our staff is truly inclusive.”
Jacqueline Newman, who is Cuban-American, was named interim executive director and will lead the search for a permanent replacement in that job. Race has become a divisive issue not only with Trump’s attacks on ethnic and racial minority Democrats but also within the Democratic Party as numerous candidates compete to challenge Trump in the 2020 election.
The DCCC has been consistently out-raising its Republican counterpart, and in May hit a record-breaking fundraising number for that month in a presidential cycle off-year at $8.85 million. In addition, several Republicans have announced in recent weeks that they are retiring from the House. Democrats are defending 41 House seats they took from Republicans in 2018.
Politico last week quoted Representative Marcia Fudge, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, as saying it was “shocking” that there was “not one person of color” in any position of authority at the DCCC.
Two Hispanic congressmen, Representatives Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela, said in a statement first published by Politico on Sunday that “the DCCC is now in complete chaos.”
“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,” Vela and Gonzalez said.
After the staff changes were announced, some lawmakers praised Bustos.
“I am glad to see Chairwoman Bustos hear the concerns of her colleagues and tackle issues of diversity and inclusion head on, so we can build on that,” said Representative Cedric Richmond, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Representative Linda Sanchez, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said she was confident Bustos was working “to bring diverse, talented perspectives to the DCCC.”
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman