Eileen Filler-Corn. Official photo.

RICHMOND – House Democrats on Wednesday stripped Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, from her title as the chamber’s minority leader, without immediately naming a replacement. 

The vote happened via secret ballot during the party’s closed-door caucus meeting just moments before the General Assembly reconvened in Richmond for its so-called veto session, where lawmakers acted on the nearly 150 pieces of legislation that Gov. Glenn Youngkin either amended or vetoed. 

Filler-Corn has served in the body since 2010, including two years as the 56th Speaker of the House of Delegates from 2020 until January – the first woman in Virginia’s history to do so. But she lost the chamber’s top job after Republicans in November flipped enough seats to regain their majority in the 100-seat body and won back all three statewide offices. 

Wednesday’s shakeup came less than a week after Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, had called for a change of leadership, stating his willingness to become the next minority leader. Scott, who resigned last week as the caucus’ vice-chair for outreach, also pushed for the removal of Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, as the caucus chairwoman. But Herring survived Wednesday’s revolt, essentially leaving her in charge of House Democrats who have yet to elect a new minority leader. 

House Democrats did not immediately comment on the shake-up within their caucus, and they were tight-lipped when passing reporters on the way to the House chamber. 

But Filler-Corn released a statement, thanking the people of Virginia and her colleagues in the House of Delegates for “allowing me to serve as the first woman and first person of Jewish faith to serve as Speaker in the 403-year history of our Commonwealth – truly the honor of my life.” She also said that she was “proud of all that we accomplished after taking the majority in 2019 and was willing to step up as Minority Leader once more to regain that majority.”

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Herring slams Youngkin over vetoes 

After Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, gaveled in Wednesday’s veto session, Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria – now the de-facto leader of her caucus – harshly criticized Youngkin’s move to veto 26 of the more than 800 bills that the divided legislature sent him in March as political retribution. Youngkin’s total was higher than that of any other governor in his first year in office since Republican Jim Gilmore in 1998, who had vetoed 37 pieces of legislation. All of the bills that Youngkin vetoed were sponsored by Democrats, and some had passed with broad bipartisan support.

“Political vetoes and amendments to strike back at Democrats in the House and in the Senate and to fan the flames of a culture war in order to boost his national profile,” Herring said on the House floor. “For bills that would look bad for him to veto, he attached a poison pill to them with amendments to quietly kill them. 

Herring said that it was no accident that every bill vetoed was sponsored by a Democrat. “For some House bills his amendments specifically undo the needed improvements made by Senate Democrats,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s Virginia’s working families and its most vulnerable citizens who will pay the price for the governor’s political gains. Instead of protecting the people of Virginia, he has chosen to take the side of slum lords, insurance companies, and collection agencies,” Herring said, referencing some of the proposals that Youngkin vetoed. 

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Senate Democrats reject Youngkin’s amendment to Peake’s abortion bill

As Gov. Glenn Youngkin joined hundreds at the 4th Annual March for Life rally in downtown Richmond Wednesday, the Senate rejected the governor’s amendment to Senate Bill 163, sponsored by Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, that would prevent a surrogate mother from being forced to abort a fetus with abnormalities or reduce the number of fetuses she is carrying. In the form that unanimously passed the Senate last month, the measure would make it illegal for child surrogacy contracts to require a surrogate to do so against her will.

But Democrats said that Youngkin’s amendment would remove the language stating that if a surrogate mother had a life threatening illness, she would not be allowed through the contract, at least as written, to terminate the pregnancy. 

“I don’t believe we have a right to make a decision in advance for any person whose health is at risk when dealing with issues around pregnancy,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, when speaking against the governor’s recommendation. “I think it is irresponsible of us, and I don’t think that it would hold up in court. We worked hard to find a compromise in this bill, and I really think we need to think long and hard before we pass a revision that does not allow someone to save their own life if that is the case,” Boysko said.

Peake had sponsored similar legislation in 2020, when it passed in the Senate, but failed to make it out of committee in what was then a Democratic-controlled House. On Wednesday, he said that he considered his bill to be “fine as the governor has amended it, which prohibits requiring an abortion, because the whole point of a surrogacy contract is to actually have a baby for the couple that has contracted for the host mother to have that baby.”

Requiring having an abortion negates the whole point of the contract, Peake said. “The governor’s amendment is consistent with the surrogacy contracts.”

The bill is now headed back to Youngkin’s desk who will have to decide whether to sign or veto it. 

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org or 804-822-1594.