Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) endorsed Marie Newman, the pro-abortion primary challenger to pro-life Democrat incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) who is a seven-term congressman and one of the last pro-life Democrats in Congress.
“Marie Newman has made it clear that she will be a champion for working families in Illinois, which is why I am proud to support her campaign,” Sen. Sanders said in his endorsement. “In Congress, Marie will fight for Medicare for All, a $15 an hour minimum wage, and providing workers with benefits such as paid sick leave, while protecting Medicare and Social Security. She will defend women’s rights, LGBT rights and ensure immigrants have a safe path to citizenship. I am proud to stand with Marie and look forward to continuing to fight alongside her on these and other critical issues once she’s elected to Congress.”
Sen. Sanders’s endorsement of a challenger to a Democratic incumbent is a bit difficult to square with his recent remarks condemning primary attacks on other Democrats. Sanders has not previously backed a challenger to a Democrat incumbent.
Lipinski is facing attacks from powerful abortion advocacy groups as well as some of his Democratic colleagues in Congress. Politico reported last week that Lipinski will not receive an endorsement from the national Democratic party. His primary against Marie Newman is on March 20th.
The abortion advocacy group NARAL has been especially targeting Lipinski over his pro-life stance.
"Time is up for Congressman Lipinski,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, said in a statement. “For too long, Dan Lipinski has ignored the needs of working families across Illinois, by pushing his fringe ideological agenda at the expense of women and families across the state.”
Lipinski argues that it’s his challenger’s abortion stance that’s more extreme. He recently warned of a “tea party of the left” that could cost the Democrats in the long run if they decide to shut out pro-life voices in the party.
Sanders’s backing of Lipinski’s opponent is interesting given that he defended campaigning with mayoral candidate Heath Mello last year who was scrutinized for supporting pro-life legislation in the past.
"The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That's what politics is about," Sanders told NPR about the incident in April.
That incident ignited a firestorm over an “abortion litmus test” in the Democratic party.
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez released a statement in response saying “every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
But Perez’s statement later received pushback from top Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She told The Washington Post in May that she did not believe in a litmus test for Democrats on abortion. Pelosi endorsed Lipinski in her press conference last week.