Joe Biden reportedly is considering Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) as his running mate. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is said to have an inside line on secretary of state. And Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) said on The Dean Obeidallah Show she is being vetted for the vice-presidential nomination.
What all three have in common are connections of varying degrees to the secretive Christian group known alternatively as The Family and The Fellowship Foundation. Coons’ involvement with The Family has been raised as an issue by a progressive challenger in this year’s primaries.
The Family was the subject last year of a Netflix docu-series, based on the work of journalist Jeff Sharlet, that focused on the group’s history and its origins as an anti-labor organization. It also dived into The Family’s notorious role in the sex scandals of some high-profile congressional members.
Ostensibly non-partisan, The Family has been dominated, especially since the 2017 death of former leader Doug Coe, by Republicans, including a billionaire backer of Pres. Trump. Even before Coe’s death, the group was controversial among Democrats due to concerns about its role in passing anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
While Biden was in the White House as vice president, LGBTQ protesters targeted Pres. Obama for speaking at The Family’s high-profile annual event, the National Prayer Breakfast.
Last year, The Young Turks reported that Coons was one of the few Democrats not targeted by Republican mega-donor Ron Cameron, a leader of The Family whose poultry business is a big presence in Coons’ home state of Delaware. Cameron has spent millions trying to unseat Democratic members of Congress — but not Coons, who is not only active with The Family but has been a champion of the poultry industry.
Coons has been perhaps the most reliable Democratic face for The Family in recent years, including serving as co-chair of the NPB. Last year he told TYT he was “concerned about the perception that it is a partisan event” but has not publicly distanced himself from the group.
TYT also revealed that an affiliate of The Family spent an undisclosed amount to facilitate NPB attendance in 2017 by Russian guests requested by Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin. Asked about the vetting of guests, Coons said last year he thought it was done differently after 2017.
“I, as the co-chair, am really responsible for the program, not for who ends up [attending],” Coons said.
Coons’ appointment as secretary of state could represent something of a coup for The Family. Coe and other Family leaders have spoken openly about the group’s goal of extending their network of relationships and influence worldwide. The organization has helped launch prayer breakfasts in countries across the globe.
In an interview with TYT in February of this year, Coons’ primary opponent, Jess Scarane, criticized his involvement with The Family, especially in relation to LGBTQ issues. Scarane also said Delaware residents are suffering due to environmental problems at one of Cameron's plants and that the response from Coons and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation has been “nothing.”
Some Democrats have shown discomfort with The Family in recent years. In response to TYT’s reporting, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) both said they had concerns about the National Prayer Breakfast.
This year’s NPB showed signs of waning Democratic enchantment with the event. Although Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) participated, as she has in the past, TYT reported that Klobuchar was not on the 2020 invitation letterhead, as she had been in previously.
Demings, who was first elected in 2017, did appear on the letterhead. When TYT asked her office about her involvement with The Family and the prayer breakfast, she provided the following statement:
“Two weeks after I was sworn in to Congress in 2017, I inquired about a possible prayer group. Prayer has always been a regular part of my life and I knew I would not only need prayer more than ever as a member of Congress but I wanted to pray for others. I was told about the bipartisan Thursday morning group. After attending several meetings, I was asked by the Republican and Democratic coordinators of the prayer group to give the closing Prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast. I agreed. This year I was asked to serve as a host. I also agreed. The Thursday morning prayer group has been a blessing to me and has allowed me to pray for families across the nation and around the world. I am a woman of faith, and as an African American female, I am all too familiar with the pain of discrimination. I support inclusion of all people regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation.”
Biden has attended the National Prayer Breakfast, as high-profile Democrats have traditionally been expected to do. There are no public indications, however, of any ties between him and The Family beyond the event itself.