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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a press conference

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 8, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

AOC Blasts Democratic Leaders for Boosting 'Pro-NRA Incumbent' Henry Cuellar

"This was an utter failure of leadership," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said hours after a gunman killed 19 children at a Texas elementary school.

Jake Johnson

In the wake of the horrific massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted her party's leadership for supporting an incumbent in the state whose record and policy positions earned him an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.

"On the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of [the Supreme Court's impending decision to overturn Roe v. Wade], Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it," Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote in a series of tweets.

"Congress should not be an incumbent protection racket."

The New York Democrat was referring to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose campaign for a 10th term in the U.S. House was boosted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).

"Accountability isn't partisan," she added. "This was an utter failure of leadership. Congress should not be an incumbent protection racket and sadly it is treated as such by far too many. The fact is those who fail their communities deserve to lose. They don't need rescuing from powerful leaders who state they fight for gun safety, the right to choose, and more."

The New York Democrat's scathing message came as the results of Cuellar's runoff contest against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros rolled in late Tuesday. As of this writing, Cuellar leads by fewer than 180 votes and has declared victory while Cisneros—whose campaign had the backing of Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives—noted that the race remains too close to formally call.

Given the razor-thin margins of the runoff, Ocasio-Cortez argued Tuesday that "if Cuellar wins, leadership's decision to go to the mat for a pro-NRA incumbent will be the reason why."

Cuellar and Cisneros both condemned the shooting in Uvalde, where a gunman killed at least 19 children and two teachers in the deadliest school massacre since Sandy Hook. Since that 2012 atrocity, there have been more than 3,500 mass shootings in the U.S. as Congress has repeatedly failed to pass meaningful reforms to the nation's gun laws.

"I am heartbroken over the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School," Cuellar tweeted Tuesday. "Families, the South Texas community, and the entire nation are in mourning. Let us pray for peace. Let us come together for our neighbors that need support. And let us remember the bright lives we lost today."

In response, Cuellar's critics pointed to his past donations from the NRA and favorable rating from the gun lobby, which aggressively fights even the most basic gun-safety regulations. As CNBC reported, Cuellar "has received thousands of dollars in donations from the group since he was elected to Congress over a decade ago."

"Cuellar received $6,950 in donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund during his reelection campaign [in 2018,]" the outlet noted.

In 2019, Cuellar's campaign rebuffed calls to return the NRA donations or give them to charity following mass shootings in Texas and other states that year.

Since Sandy Hook, the nation has experienced more than 3,500 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks gun violence and defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured.

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