Bernie Sanders is currently on a “Democratic unity tour” which included a stop over in Omaha to support mayoral candidate Heath Mello, who is both a Democrat and has a history of supporting legislation against abortion rights.
On Thursday, NARAL released a statement from President Ilyse Hogue, who condemned Sanders and DNC Chair Tom Perez for showing up for Mello’s campaign:
“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women – one of the most critical constituencies for the party – of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid. Today’s action make this so-called ‘fight back tour’ look more like a throw back tour for women and our rights.
“If Democrats think the path forward following the 2016 election is to support candidates who substitute their own judgement and ideology for that of their female constituents, they have learned all the wrong lessons and are bound to lose. It’s not possible to have an authentic conversation about economic security for women that does not include our ability to decide when and how we have children.
Hogue finishes by saying that this tour won’t be uniting anyone if it turns its back on these issues. “It will only set back women’s fundamental rights and freedoms,” she added.
NPR reports that Mello has co-sponsored several anti-abortion bills in Nebraska, including one that would require doctors to tell women they can receive an ultrasound prior to an abortion. In a statement to The Huffington Post on Thursday, Mello seemed to be distancing himself from his past by telling them that were he elected he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” Rumors have also circulated that Mello had a 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood, which they deny, though he has spoken well of PP during his current campaign:
“Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska has never endorsed Heath Mello for public office nor has Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska given Heath Mello a 100% rating, as some media outlets have erroneously reported,” the group said in a statement.
“Heath Mello has introduced and supported anti-choice legislation during his time at the Nebraska Unicameral, and Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska strongly opposed him when he took such actions,” the statement continues. “Over the course of Heath Mello’s campaign for Omaha Mayor he has said loud and clear he supports Planned Parenthood and wants to protect the work we do. Although he has not started that conversation with us, our door is always open and we welcome the opportunity to start a productive dialogue on how Heath Mello can help us promote and protect access to women’s health care in Nebraska.”
There are also no other Democrats competing against Mello, so if the citizens of Omaha want a Democrat mayor, this is the guy.
The real crux of the controversy is the support of Bernie Sanders, who has been very displeased with the criticism. Sanders spoke with NPR, telling them that the real issue is unity within the Democratic party:
“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.
“If we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day we’re going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation,” he said. “And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”
In that same interview, Sanders blamed the recent losses by Democrats on “the failure of the Democratic Party to have a progressive agenda, to bring people into this party, to mobilize people.” Right now, Sanders has mobilized the DNC to deny any involvement in this whole mess, with staffers saying the idea to hold a rally for Mello was entirely Sanders’s idea.
Tom Perez will not be attending the rally planned for Mello this week because of outside events, but he did release a statement that deftly supports abortion rights while sidestepping the issue of the DNC rally:
“The Democratic Party’s platform states clearly our support for every woman’s right to make their own choices about their reproductive health and to have access to safe abortion services,” Perez said in the statement. “As DNC Chair, I stand by that position unequivocally, as I have my entire life.”
So progressive. So inspiring.