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Phillips takes intra-party heat for scrubbing campaign website’s reference to DEI

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Rep. Dean Phillips, the Minnesota Democrat mounting a long-shot challenge to President Joe Biden, drew sharp criticism from fellow Democrats in Congress after he removed language about diversity, equity and inclusion from his campaign website.

POLITICO reported on Tuesday night that Phillips scrubbed the language amid public criticism of DEI from one of his top donors.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a prominent progressive running for Senate in California, rebuked Phillips for the move, which she said she had not previously read about.

“I think that speaks volumes as to what his values are,” Lee said. Phillips has already angered some House Democratic colleagues with his decision to take on Biden.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was blunt: “I’m disappointed.” Beyer said Democrats should not allow themselves to be pressured by the right into “abandoning things we believe in, but he may have had a good reason.”

The donor who criticized the language, hedge fund investor Bill Ackman, previously called Phillips’ DEI language a “mistake” and said the candidate was “getting educated” about the topic. Phillips’ campaign confirmed on Tuesday that it replaced the DEI language with the phrase “Equity & Restorative Justice,” stating that DEI — a decades-old initiative in academia and government aimed at promoting fairer representation of groups that have faced historic discrimination — “now means such divergent things to different people.”

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, posted on X implying that Ackman’s $1 million contribution to the Phillips effort led to the campaign dropping the DEI language.

A Phillips campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Beyond Lee, other Democrats hadn’t directly seen the news of Phillips’ move but still took the opportunity to criticize him.

“The Democratic coalition is overwhelmingly women, people of color, LGBT communities,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “I mean, if you don’t believe in championing them, then good luck.”

Up in New Hampshire, where Phillips’ has grounded his longshot presidential primary bid, some Democrats echoed those frustrations. Longtime Democratic operative Kathy Sullivan, who is helping to lead the write-in effort for Biden in the state, called Phillips’ moves “grotesque.”

But she didn’t expect it to translate into paid attack ads against Phillips in New Hampshire, given that “a lot of what we’re doing is set in stone now because of timing.”

“From our social media perspective, talking to friends and neighbors, it’s something I hope gets out there in a widespread manner,” she said. “Word-of-mouth is big in our state, since we’re a small state.”

Elena Schneider contributed.