Politics

Hispanic caucus tells Cuban American he can’t join the club — he’s too Republican

U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, at his campaign headquarters in October 2016. Curbelo voted to repeal Obamacare in the House before the Senate stalled the effort.
U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, at his campaign headquarters in October 2016. Curbelo voted to repeal Obamacare in the House before the Senate stalled the effort. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up strictly of Democrats, rejected Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s bid to join its ranks Thursday, saying some members are concerned about his stance on immigration.

The caucus, currently made up of 30 members of Congress who are all Democrats, took a vote on Thursday morning after Curbelo appeared in front of the group to make his pitch.

“He made a presentation and it was a good presentation,” said caucus chairwoman Michelle Grisham Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat.

It didn’t work.

“It is truly shameful the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has decided to build a wall around the organization to exclude Hispanic-Americans who aren’t registered in the Democratic Party,” Curbelo said in a statement afterward. “This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry, and division. Unbelievably, petty partisan interests have led the CHC to formally endorse the segregation of American Hispanics. It is a dark day on Capitol Hill. However, this only strengthens my commitment to working with my colleagues on both sides to urgently seek a solution for young immigrants in the DACA Program.”

Grisham Lujan said Curbelo’s voting record, which includes voting in favor of a proposal to repeal Obamacare, factored into the decision to deny his membership.

“We discussed several items, healthcare, the tax bill, relief for Puerto Rico,” Grisham Lujan said. “Many of those votes in this climate gave members who voted no, and maybe other members, pause over whether or not this was a good time for changing membership.”

Individual members declined to reveal their votes while leaving Thursdays’ meeting, though some members like Arizona Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ruben Gallego had previously said they planned to vote against Curbelo’s inclusion.

“Once we’ve done that [the vote], he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn’t been given an audience and start complaining about the result,” Grijalva said earlier this month.

Grisham Lujan implied that she voted in favor of Curbelo’s membership, which also hit a snag after it was reported that Curbelo had a heated meeting with Grisham Lujan over his inclusion.

“I will tell you that I have been a member who has been on the record being favorable to membership by both Senate and House Republicans, and I’ve been consistent in that effort,” Grisham Lujan said after the vote.

Democrats on the committee also argued that Curbelo, who represents a Democratic-leaning district stretching from Key West to Miami, was using the caucus as a political tool to help with his reelection bid in a district where Hillary Clinton won by double digits over Donald Trump.

Congressman Carlos Curbelo victory speech after defeating Joe Garcia.

Curbelo said that he initially sought inclusion into the caucus at the beginning of 2017, nearly two years away from his reelection date, and that he went public with his intention to join after the caucus stalled his membership for months.

Curbelo had asked to join the group that takes up issues of concern to the Hispanic community in February, and noted that the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes mostly Democrats, allowed Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love to join.

Curbelo said if he had been admitted, he wouldn’t have participated in CHC meetings where Democrats discuss partisan political strategy and would only participate in meetings that are policy oriented.

The Hispanic Caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has said he’s not interested in joining the Democratic-controlled caucus.

A major hangup for some CHC members over Curbelo’s potential inclusion is that he has not cosponsored a version of the Dream Act, though Curbelo has said he will vote in favor of any proposal to help undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children if such a bill makes it to the House floor.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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