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Should board members of the National Endowment for Democracy be in favor of democracy?

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According to the Board, it’s not a prerequisite:

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election and voted against certification of Joe Biden’s win, currently serves as a board member for a revered U.S. organization dedicated to the promotion of democracy.

The congresswoman’s position on the National Endowment for Democracy’s board has rankled fellow Republicans, foreign policy scholars and some former NED board members, who say her statements, along with her support for GOP-authored election laws, are at odds with the organization’s mission.

“How is it consistent for someone like her to be on the board of NED given its mission for promoting democracy all over the world and in America with the view that she and many Republicans have for changing our election processes to make it harder for people to participate in our democracy?” said former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), a former NED board member.

“It’s kind of like the Catholic Church appointing a self-described atheist as a cardinal,” said Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Elise Stefanik is part of the threat to American democracy. It’s a travesty that she’s on the board of an institution whose goal is to promote democracy.”

Stefanik’s remarks also have caused internal tensions at the congressionally funded, non-partisan organization. After the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, some staffers at NED circulated a letter internally raising concerns about her position on the board, according to four people familiar with the matter.

“There was a lot of staff unhappiness,” said one of the people.

A NED spokesperson confirmed that the group’s president, Carl Gershman, received the letter and informed the board of directors of its contents. When the board met on January 8, members discussed both the insurrection and Stefanik’s position on the board for roughly half an hour. Stefanik did not attend the meeting and no formal vote or action was taken on her membership, according to a person familiar with the meeting. But some board members bristled at staff trying to interfere with the makeup of the board.

“Who is in the Board is a Board decision and the staff has no role in it,” one NED board member said in a text message. “It’s totally improper for them to try to veto Board members.”

Ultimately, officials at NED have not budged. Though the group denounced the violence at the nation’s Capitol, it has held firm to the belief in the need for bipartisan representation in its ranks.

“The National Endowment for Democracy needs bipartisan support, and if this involves leaving a seditionist who voted to make Donald Trump a dictator hours after he incited a deadly riot designed to stop the certification of a legitimate election on the board this is what we must do.”

This is how democratic backsliding happens — pro-democracy organizations thinking that being pro-democratic can’t be a litmus test.

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