May 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Henry Cuellar's indictment met with silence on Capitol Hill

Rep. Henry Cuellar, wearing a pinstripe suit, white shirt and red tie and holding a cup, walking through a Capitol basement hallway.

Rep. Henry Cuellar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is getting a quiet reprieve from colleagues in both parties after being indicted over the weekend.

Why it matters: It's a marked contrast to the treatment of the two other lawmakers who have been indicted in the 118th Congress – Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).

What's happening: Cuellar was indicted by the Justice Department on Friday and accused of taking nearly $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijani government-controlled oil company and a Mexican bank.

  • The South Texas congressman is accused of pushing legislation and pressuring executive branch officials to benefit Azerbaijan and the bank.
  • Cuellar has proclaimed his innocence and said he plans to seek re-election in November.

State of play: The National Republican Congressional Committee has challenged Democrats to call for Cuellar's resignation as they did with Santos.

  • So far, just one Democrat, retiring Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), has heeded that call.

What they're saying: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Friday that Cuellar "is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process."

  • House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) told Axios on Monday that Cuellar is "going to get due process of law" and praised him for doing "the right thing" by stepping down from his subcommittee chairmanship.
  • A senior House Democrat predicted few Democrats will call for Cuellar's resignation: "Dean Phillips is probably not the person to lean on for these things."
  • But the lawmaker acknowledged "it's a problem" and said the appearance of hypocrisy with Santos is "concerning" to some Democrats.

Yes, but: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), asked if Cuellar should resign, said: "I haven't seen any details."

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told Axios: "I don't know much about that."

What we're hearing: "There's the ordinary [process]: allegation, criminal process, ethics review, outcome. And then there's the extraordinary – George Santos," said one House Republican.

  • A House Democrat told Axios that Cuellar's stuff "isn't as entertaining and bizarre ... Santos was a bizarre series of weird fabrications plus the FEC violations. Made for good soap opera."

Zoom in: Republicans are hamstrung by their allegiance to former President Donald Trump, who is facing four criminal indictments and has leapt to Cuellar's defense.

  • "We have a former president going through indictments now, nothing's been proven," said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), telling Axios that Trump's case has "certainly" influenced how Republicans approach indictments.
  • "Same thing with Congressman Cuellar, he deserves his day in court before anyone starts making accusations or speculation – before people start jumping on the bandwagon," he said.
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