Henry Cuellar represents the Texas 28th district as a Democrat, but you wouldn’t know it from his record. Cuellar has fundraised for the Republican Party and votes with President Trump 69 percent of the time. In 2016 he received more in campaign contributions from private prison companies than any other candidate, and during the 2018 election cycle only two candidates took more money from either the prison lobby or payday lenders. Cuellar was also among the lowest scoring Democrats on civil liberties according to the ACLU’s Congressional Scorecard.
Security is at the nexus of domestic and foreign policy
The eventual primary challenger put forward by the Justice Democrats will likely endorse domestic priorities that reflect the most pressing needs of the working-class. What constitutes meaningful security for most of us on a domestic level is evident in the group’s policy platform, which is fundamentally a reorientation from an economic platform serving the parochial interests of the elite to one that: fairly compensates the efforts of the working-class; encourages political reforms to protect the most vulnerable; and promotes structural changes that reflect democratic values.
But security and insecurity are also profoundly influenced by foreign policy. Taking a security lens to Cuellar’s legislative record invites an international perspective to complement this domestic critique.
Cuellar’s version of security is both out-of-touch and kleptocratic. Take Cuellar’s explanation for refusing to support the Green New Deal. Although the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to issue dire warnings that within a decade the window for curbing the most calamitous effects of climate change will close, Cuellar has worried that substantive environmental reform wouldn’t be palatable to the centrist voters to whom he appeals: “A lot of Republican seats that we won – a lot of them are moderate, conservative Democrats, and we have to keep that in mind. Those are people I’m concerned about… we can’t go too extreme.”
As justification Cuellar pointed to the membership of the rightmost Democratic congressional caucus, the Blue Dog Coalition, which lists 26 members. By contrast, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is roughly four times as large and owes much of its rising success to its members’ placing climate change at the forefront of their policy priorities, or their electoral victories over climate change deniers.
Cuellar’s disposition is either from a lack of a fundamental understanding of contemporary politics and constituent interests, or it is an indication of subservience to corporate interests. (He took home as much as $165,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas sector in the 2018 election cycle).
An international approach
Although climate change is an impending existential threat, especially to the working class, politicians like Cuellar prioritize threats the way their rolodex of corporate donors dictates.
Cuellar’s positions on U.S. foreign policy promote a version of security defined by corporations. Northrop Grumman was the third-largest contributor to his campaign in the 2018 election cycle. Boeing and Lockheed Martin tied for seventh-largest, and both General Dynamics and Leidos were in the top 50. These corporations have a vested interest in sustaining indefinite war and military budgets that support global force projection.
Predictably, Cuellar’s legislative track record suggests there are no limits to expanding the military budget, even when this endless growth ultimately comes at the expense of social programs. In 2016 he voted against House Amendment 1206 to H.R.5293 and House Amendment 1037 to H.R.4909, which would have curtailed the practice of using the Overseas Contingency Operations budget as a slush fund for the U.S. military to evade spending caps applied to its base budget. He also voted against amendments to reduce the base budget by a mere 1 percent in both 2013 and 2016. Cuellar has also opposed an alternate budget presented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus to fund a less parochial version of security since at least 2012.
Cuellar’s preference for the military industry over military personnel is also evident in his voting record on indefinite war waged with on dubious grounds. In 2016 he voted against House Amendment 1036 to H.R.4909 that would have prevented an expansion of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, already the longest war in American history. So too in 2011 and 2012 did he vote against amendments proposed by Barbara Lee to limit or reduce the funds available to continue global U.S. militarism in perpetuity. He also voted against reining in indefinite war outside of Afghanistan. For example, he opposed House Amendment 1216 to H.R.5293 introduced by Lee to prohibit funds from being used for operations under the 2001 AUMF, the authority that gave the executive branch largely unchecked power to wage war without the consent of the public funding these operations.
Cuellar effectively dismissed consent when he voted against Rep. Amash’s amendment in 2013 that would have blocked the bulk collection of information on hundreds of millions of Americans by the National Security Agency, and when he voted against House Amendment 1212 to H.R.5293 which would have blocked taxpayer dollars from being used to transfer or authorize the transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, after Human Rights Watch had already documented and publicized their use in the Saudi-led coalition’s persistent slaughter of Yemeni civilians.
In this context, Cuellar’s acceptance of donations by for-profit prisons is no surprise. In 2014 Cuellar opposed a bipartisan amendment that would have ended indefinite detention, as well as a 2013 amendment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
What is the value of an international perspective? After all, approaching Cuellar’s record from a foreign policy perspective yields the same thematic criticism offered by the Justice Democrats. But this should not be interpreted as a sign of redundancy. Rather, it demonstrates how domestic and foreign policy are mutually reinforcing, both in terms of the material sacrifices foreign policy decisions necessitate at home, and in the malign form those practices assume upon their inevitable return.