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Tipsheet

Incoming Democratic Leader Jeffries Names New DCCC Chair

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

The 2022 midterm cycle was definitely a mixed bag for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). While Democrats performed largely better than expected, Republicans still took back the majority, which involved Maloney losing his own seat to Rep.-Elect Mike Lawler. Despite still losing the majority, Democrats remain hopeful, as communicated when announcing the name of the next Democrat tapped to lead the DCCC, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA).

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On Tuesday, the DCCC released a press release from incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), which early on touts "unprecedented midterm success for the party in power, falling just a few seats short of retaining the majority." 

Ahead of the release, Punchbowl News previewed the selection in their morning newsletter, making some telling points:

This is an important selection for several reasons.

 This is the first time in several cycles that the Democratic leader will pick the DCCC chair. The full Democratic Caucus still needs to ratify the decision.

 Two men – California Reps. Ami Bera and Tony Cárdenas – were publicly vying for the spot. But the Democratic leadership felt it was important to elevate a woman to the high-profile post of leading the campaign committee.

DelBene, along with Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), championed a rule change that granted the Democratic leader a larger role in selecting the DCCC chair. The amendment allowed the leader to nominate a chair, who would then have to be ratified by the entire caucus.

In past cycles, House Democrats elected the DCCC chair in a caucus-wide vote, a reform that was granted in 2016 to remove some power from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In addition to Democrats being focused on diversity and "elevat[ing] a woman," one of the contenders in question, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), had his own drama. 

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A POLITICO Playbook from December 1 highlighted," 'Dems in disarray' makes a (brief) comeback," when it comes to drama regarding how Cárdenas had allegedly assaulted a woman and was also allegedly involved with Mark Handel, known as the "boogeyman of porn." 

— And there’s an intense whisper campaign happening behind the scenes about Rep. TONY CÁRDENAS’ (D-Calif.) bid to head the DCCC — one that compiles ugly past allegations about sexual assault, as well as new alleged connections to a man known as the “boogeyman of porn.”

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Shortly after Election Day, our colleague Nick Wu reported that Cárdenas — who ran BOLD PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ political arm — had locked down a substantial amount of support for the DCCC job.

But in the weeks since, headlines from Cárdenas’ past have circulated among Dem lawmakers and operatives, including an allegation from a woman who claimed that Cárdenas molested her when she was a teenager — an accusation he denies, and which was the subject of a lawsuit that was later dropped.

Then there’s his association with MARK HANDEL, the so-called boogeyman of porn. Last week, The Daily Beast’s William Bredderman reported that Handel, a politically connected real estate developer who raised money for Cárdenas and acted as a “liaison … to the larger Los Angeles real estate community,” also “moonlighted” as a director of violent pornography — and has been accused of repeatedly physically abusing women. Handel is under federal indictment for alleged financial misdeeds.

There’s a connection between the allegations: In 2018, the L.A. Times reported, citing court records, that the woman who accused Cárdenas of sexual assault said the congressman had secured a place for her family to live rent-free — and that Handel covered the expense. (Cárdenas denies this as well.) Meanwhile, a documentary trailer concerning the various allegations has been making the rounds, fueling the whisper campaign.

In a statement to Playbook, Cárdenas denied the accusations. “Nothing is new, and frankly, everything has been publicly resolved, refuted or dropped,” said a campaign spokesperson. “Voters are focused on kitchen table issues, not unfounded claims and distorted information by amateur operatives desperate for committee contracts.”

Regardless of whether the allegations are true, some Democrats fret that if Cárdenas were to head the DCCC, Republicans would latch on to any accusation against Cárdenas and use it to slime the whole party come 2024.

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Rep. Bera (D-CA), who may have spread the information to make his DCCC chair opponent look bad, may have also had some drama of his own:

Who’s behind the resurfacing of these old allegations? Cárdenas allies suspect it’s coming from fellow DCCC hopeful Bera. (TRAVIS HORNE, a spokesman for Bera’s office, said they had “nothing to do with this.”)

For his part, Bera also has associations with scandal. His father spent time in prison for funneling at least $260,000 in illegal contribution straw donations to Bera’s 2010 and 2012 congressional campaigns. Though Bera was cleared of any impropriety, that, too, is giving Democrats heartburn.

“If someone had emerged as a consensus candidate [for the DCCC post], this rules change probably wouldn’t have passed,” said one senior Democratic aide. “If you’re going to put your name forward for a position like this, you have to expect that any whisper of a scandal will be a problem.”

In addition to such drama, Cárdenas and Bera are from California, and Democrats have faced criticism for a lack of geographic diversity, as NBC News's Chuck Todd brought up earlier this month when he had incoming House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) on as a guest for "Meet the Press." Clark responded to the concerns by giving a non-answer. 

Clark was just one of many incoming Democratic leaders for the 118th Congress who made Sunday show appearances on December 4. A theme of her appearance, as well as other such leaders, was just more of the same. This included not only the same priorities and agenda but the demonization of Republican opponents. 

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That theme was also reflected in Tuesday's press release, which also highlighted the intention for Democrats to win back control of the chamber in 2024. 

"This November, House Democrats achieved unprecedented midterm success for the party in power, falling just a few seats short of retaining the majority. As we temporarily relinquish the gavels, the dangerous dysfunction of the Extreme MAGA Republicans is already on display," Jeffries is quoted as saying, referring to an oft-used line about his political opponents.

DelBene echoed that sentiment and is quoted as saying, "I'm ready to get to work with our new leadership team and all corners of our Caucus to win back the House Majority. Democrats are dedicated to showing Americans that governance can work, advancing the policies that will make a difference to families, workers and communities, and pushing back against MAGA Republican extremism and chaos."

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