MSNBC's Kornacki: GOP-Friendly Cuellar Is the New Lieberman

Monday, 14 Jul 2014 10:44 PM

By Greg Richter

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Rep. Henry Cuellar, the Texas Democrat who has been critical of President Barack Obama's border policy in recent days, has become the new "Joe Lieberman," says MSNBC's Steve Kornacki.

Kornacki sat in as guest host on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Monday and used his opening segment to track Cuellar's actions that have angered the left over the years.

It started in 2000, when Cuellar, then a state representative in Texas, backed Republican George W. Bush for president over Democrat Al Gore. Bush was governor of Texas at the time, which might have played a role, but Cuellar also wasn't happy with Gore for attacking the state's fiscal health.

Cuellar felt that was a slap at the Texas Legislature.

Cuellar's criticism of Gore was used in Bush campaign ads, making Cuellar "basically a Bush surrogate," Kornacki said.

In 2001, Bush's replacement in the Texas Governor's Office, Republican Rick Perry, appointed Cuellar Secretary of State in Texas, further alienating him from fellow Democrats.

In 2004, Ceullar backed John Kerry for president over Bush, but he also ran for Congress against Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Rodriguez led by 145 votes on election night, but a recount showed Cuellar won by 58 votes. The case went to court, and Cuellar won.

In 2006 Rodriguez, tried to take the seat back, but the conservative Club for Growth endorsed Cuellar, the first time it had ever backed a Democrat.

After Bush's 2006 State of the Union address he sought out Cuellar and have him a friendly clasp on both sides of his face. The photo was used to try to link Cuellar to Bush, but it didn't work. He survived re-election, and Democrats finally gave up trying to defeat him.

But "The Clasp," as Kornacki called it, came just one year after "The Kiss" – a photo of Bush kissing Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman that was credited for causing Lieberman to lose the Democratic primary. He ran as an independent and retained the seat.

As Lieberman was derided by his party as the GOP's favorite Democrat back then, Cuellar holds the title today, Kornacki said, and "we are being reminded why he drove Democrats nuts in the first place."

Since July 6, Cuellar has been joining Perry in calling for Obama to visit the border. On Fox News Channel's "Your World with Neil Cavuto," he echoed some in the GOP who said Obama risked his own "Katrina moment" if he didn’t see the problem of Central American children flooding the border with his own eyes.

He told ABC News the president looked "bizarre" drinking beer and shooting pool with the governor of Colorado, but refusing to visit the border.

Such words place Cuellar as "an unusually blunt critic of President Obama," Kornacki said. Much of the attention on his criticism comes from the fact that he's a member of the president's own party.

"It's much more powerful when a Democrat does it about a Democratic president," Kornacki said.

Monday, Cuellar joined fellow Texan Sen. John Cornyn in announcing a bipartisan, bicameral bill to speed up hearings that could deport the unaccompanied children back to their home countries. It would rewrite a 2008 law that treats children from noncontiguous countries different from those from Mexico or Canada, which share borders with the United States.

Children from those two countries can immediately be returned to their countries.

The Hispanic Caucus doesn't back the bill and says Cuellar doesn't speak for them. The White House appears to support it, but is keeping quiet, USA Today reporter Alan Gomez told Kornacki.

Gomez said Cuellar, who lives in the border city of Loredo, may simply be doing what he thinks is right. His district is safe, and he doesn't fear losing election.

"He understands these issues very well," Gomez said.

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