The political action committee affiliated with a bipartisan caucus on Capitol Hill is spending money to back a Republican challenge to Rep. Katie Hill of California, a freshman Democrat who has been an independent and at times progressive voice in the House, despite serving in a district previously held by the GOP.
Hill is what’s known as a “front-liner” in Democratic caucus politics, because she’ll face a difficult challenge to hold on to her seat in California’s 25th District. Mike Garcia, an Iraq War veteran, launched his campaign in April, and the With Honor PAC jumped in to support him that same month.
House Democratic leadership crafts its entire political and legislative strategy around protecting front-liners like Hill, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently chastised the caucus for criticizing vulnerable front-liners, suggesting they hit her instead.
That makes the support for a Republican challenger from the For Country Caucus, which includes at least 10 Democrats, fairly remarkable, particularly as House incumbents have launched a full-blown counterrevolution against the so-called Squad and the organization that backs them, Justice Democrats, accusing them of undermining the party by targeting incumbents.
Justice Democrats, which became a prominent actor in Democratic politics after helping elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, however, has so far not endorsed a single challenger to a front-line Democrat, even as a new centrist caucus backs a Republican against Hill. The caucus is co-chaired by California Democrat Jimmy Panetta, who was first elected in 2016 and is the son of longtime Democratic operative and former Rep. Leon Panetta. The caucus also includes Democratic Reps. Seth Moulton, Mass., Chrissy Houlahan, Pa., Gil Cisneros, Calif., Jason Crow, Colo., Jared Golden, Maine, Conor Lamb, Pa., Elaine Luria, Va., Max Rose, N.Y., and Mikie Sherrill of N.J. None of the caucus members responded to a request for comment.
In 2018 primaries, Crow, Luria, and Cisneros faced progressive primary opponents and won with the weight of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee behind them. They are now linked up with a PAC working in direct opposition to the interests of the DCCC.
The For Country Caucus is an offshoot of the With Honor PAC, and it initially planned to call itself the With Honor Caucus, according to internal emails obtained by The Intercept. Despite the name change, the caucus’s affiliation with With Honor is still widely apparent. The For Country Caucus adopted a pledge identical to one With Honor’s endorsed candidates had agreed to. An affiliated super PAC, called the With Honor Fund, was bankrolled in 2018 by billionaires Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, and others, and similarly focused on electing veterans to Congress.
With Honor maintains that it has nothing to do with the caucus. “Intimations that any of the Members of the For Country Caucus have any involvement with the decisions made by With Honor PAC or With Honor Fund are false,” the PAC said in an email following publication of this article. “There is no affiliation between the With Honor PAC and the independent member-led For Country caucus.”
According to FEC records, Mike Garcia, a Republican challenging Hill, has gotten more than $3,000 in in-kind assistance from the With Honor PAC. That might not sound like much, but the type of assistance is likely much more valuable than that. The help is listed as fundraising consulting, travel costs, strategic consulting, and legal services, suggesting that With Honor PAC is using its links to ultra-wealthy people to assist Garcia with fundraising. A former Naval officer, he raised just over $250,000 in his first quarter on the trail.
The With Honor PAC’s support can also give Garcia the sheen of bipartisan credibility, highly useful in a swing district. Hill won the district by 9 points after more than two decades of Republican control.
“We support veteran candidates across the country – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – who pledge to serve with integrity, civility, and courage. With Honor Fund has not endorsed any candidates for the 2020 cycle,” the PAC said in a statement.
In addition to contributing to For Country Caucus members, With Honor has also given money this cycle to the campaigns of several incumbents, including Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy; the DCCC; EMILY’s List; and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In March, caucus members and the affiliated PACs repeatedly denied the two had anything to do with each other. In an email to The Intercept, the With Honor PAC said they hoped members have the “courage to collaborate across the aisle” and one of the ways they can do that is with a “cross partisan caucus,” adding, “we’re supportive of them doing that, but like I stated, there is no With Honor caucus.”
“The caucus is folks that focus on, among other things, working on policy that promotes public service and just members of the caucus have agreed to a civility pledge to commit to working with integrity, honesty, and drive to find common ground across the aisle. But this is not, this doesn’t have to do with With Honor,” a Panetta spokesperson said at the time. “That’s separate.”
They’re so separate, in fact, that the For Country Caucus is now featured prominently on the website of With Honor Action, which directs visitors to donate to the With Honor PACs.
Ryan Grim is the author of “We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.”
Correction: July 19, 2019, 7:02 p.m. ET
A previous version of this article incorrectly described Rep. Jimmy Panetta as a freshman representative. He is in his second term. Due to an editing error, the article originally said that the For Country Caucus is listed on the With Honor PAC’s website; rather, it is listed on the website of With Honor Action. The article has been updated to include a comment from With Honor that was received after publication.