The recent troubles for the Democratic campaign arm began almost immediately after the midterm elections, according to several officials familiar with the situation who discussed internal dynamics only on the condition of anonymity. Several high-ranking aides of color who had been brought to the committee by Representative Ben Ray Lujàn, Democrat of New Mexico, who led it during the last Congress, saw their roles diminished as Ms. Bustos added staff of her own.
Some read the changes as an early sign that Ms. Bustos was unwilling to cultivate and elevate critical minority voices at the committee, the officials said, and weeks later, Jalisa Washington-Price, who had been in charge of diversity initiatives, quit. She was the highest-ranking African-American in the building.
Shortly after, some senior black Democratic officials exchanged eye rolls during the messaging meeting with an all-white stable of consultants, according to one person present. The situation worsened in March, after the committee announced a new policy — codifying an unwritten practice of the past — that it would not do business with consultants or other vendors who worked for candidates mounting primary challenges to other Democrats.
Justice Democrats, which helped propel Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to victory last year in a primary against the 20-year incumbent Joe Crowley, took the move as a direct affront. Representative Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, who defeated another 20-year veteran Democrat, Michael Capuano, in a primary, said the policy risked “undermining an entire universe of potential candidates and vendors — especially women and people of color — whose ideas, energy, and innovation need a place in our party.”
Ms. Bustos seemed to fuel the resentment by repeatedly mentioning to other lawmakers that her husband is Mexican and that one of her sons is engaged to a black woman, a comment some interpreted as an attempt to deflect any potential questions about her commitment to issues of race. She came under intense criticism last month for promoting an African-American aide, Tayhlor Coleman, who had sent offensive tweets appearing to disparage gay people and Mexicans.
This week’s purge appears to have stemmed the damage for now. Ms Bustos has named an interim executive director, Jacqueline Newman, who is Cuban-American, and a task force to search for a permanent replacement. She also brought in Doug Thornell, a veteran Democratic strategist who is African-American, to help right the ship. She will participate this month in a series of diversity and inclusion workshops, along with her staff.
“I’m black and I’m from the South, and I know what it’s like to have organizations and people not invest in the most important voting blocs in the country,” said Antjuan Seawright, a senior adviser to the committee since May who has made it a mission to bring in more diverse staff and consultants. “The D.C.C.C. is definitely making progress.”
But, he added, “there’s no such thing as enough when you’ve been left out for so long.”