Last October, the morning after a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead, a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) echoed Republican talking points, telling House candidates that they should not politicize the most deadly mass shooting in modern American history.
“You and your candidate will be understandably outraged and upset, as will your community. However, DO NOT POLITICIZE IT TODAY,” the email, sent by DCCC regional press secretary Evan Lukaske, read. “There will be time for politics and policy discussion, but any message today should be on offering thoughts/prayers for victims and their families, and thanking 1st responders who saved lives.”
Instead, Lukaske said, the only message legislators should be offering in the wake of the massacre was “thoughts/prayers.”
The directive, first obtained by HuffPost, was nearly identical to the one White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered later that same day.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy. Today is a day for consoling of survivors and mourning those we lost,” Sanders said at the time. “There is a time and place for political debate, but now is a time to unite as a country.”
Just hours after Lukaske’s email went out, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) appeared to push back, tweeting a message to his colleagues in Congress: “[Y]our cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers,” the senator wrote.
To my colleagues: your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers.
None of this ends unless we do something to stop it.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 2, 2017
On Tuesday, however, Murphy downplayed the DCCC directive.
“Well, it was one staffer,” he reportedly said, before adding, “No Democrat should be worried about talking about policy changes in the wake of these mass shootings.”
Meredith Kelly, the DCCC’s communications director, told HuffPost this week that the email was intended to discourage hasty responses before all information about the shooting was made public, not to silence opinions on gun policy.
“A communications staffer who fails to provide immediate and thoughtful guidance after a national tragedy, based on the best available information at the time, is not doing his job,” Kelly said.
Kelly reportedly would not say whether the DCCC offered its candidates similar guidance following the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead, including a number of teenagers. Lukaske did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry asking the same question.
The DCCC has grappled with a host of negative press in recent weeks. Just last week, the committee came out against Laura Moser, a progressive candidate and one of seven Democrats aiming to unseat Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), dropping opposition research about Moser usually reserved for Republicans.
The group hit Moser as a “Washington insider” who only recently moved back to Houston. Additionally, the DCCC argued, much of Moser’s campaign funding has gone to her husband’s political consulting firm.
After dropping the research, Kelly doubled down in a statement to The Texas Tribune.
Referring to a piece Moser wrote in 2014 for Washingtonian magazine, in which Moser said she would rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than move to Paris, Texas, Kelly told the Tribune, “Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”
As the Tribune noted, although the DCCC has tried to avoid the appearance of taking sides in the Democratic primaries until now, The Intercept reported last month that the committee has honed in on potential candidates with fundraising chops and declined to work with others who are considered too far left.