Editorials

Hispanic Caucus shouldn’t have closed the door in Curbelo’s face

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., talks to reporters with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., last fall.   Curbelo and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., have helped craft an immigration compromise within the Republican Party that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers, though the plan is more conservative than what the Miami Republicans would have wanted.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., talks to reporters with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., last fall. Curbelo and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., have helped craft an immigration compromise within the Republican Party that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers, though the plan is more conservative than what the Miami Republicans would have wanted. Getty Images

In November, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus rejected Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo’s application to join the group. Now caucus members have stepped up the feud, announcing that they are backing the Democratic challenger who wants to unseat Curbelo in November.

It’s the caucus’ prerogative to support Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a promising newcomer to politics — and a Democrat — who had a strong showing when she challenged state Sen. Anitere Flores in 2016. But not letting Curbelo join the caucus remains a short-sighted, spiteful move. And it’s just because he has an “R” attached to his name.

The caucus should make clear that it’s an exclusive club for Democrats, and that Republicans need not apply — even if they’re Hispanic.

At a time when the opposing party controls the White House and both the U.S. Senate and the House, the caucus needs all the friends on the other side of the aisle that it can get. And as the debate over DACA and, more broadly, immigration policy take center stage, Curbelo could have been a bridge.

Yes, he has been misguided in supporting President Trump’s game-changing agenda, from tax reform to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

However, Curbelo has carved out a reputation as a sometimes moderate. On Tuesday his office announced he has signed a petition to have a proposal to restore felons’ voting rights added to the Florida ballot. Not exactly high on most Republicans’ to-do list.

And on Monday, Curbelo announced his support for DREAMers’ efforts to gain legal status — again, pushing back against more hardline Republicans.

However, Curbelo, who co-chairs the House Climate Solutions Caucus, still did not pass the Hispanic Caucus’ litmus test. “They told me I don’t share their values,” Curbelo told Fox News in November. “It’s as if they are saying, ‘You’re only Hispanic if you’re a Democrat.’”

The Democratic Party has made Curbelo’s seat a high-priority target, citing Congressional District 26’s Democratic-leaning makeup. It favors Democrats by 6 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, making it the most Democratic district in the country represented by a Republican. It’s no surprise that, in 2016, Hillary Clinton bested Donald Trump by 16 points there. But Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points, showing Curbelo’s crossover appeal to Democrats and independents.

After the Hispanic Caucus spurned him, a fuming Curbelo issued a statement: “It is truly shameful that 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. This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry and division. … It is a dark day on Capitol Hill.”

In comparison, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, officially a nonpartisan group, have been majority Democratic since it was founded in 1971. But it has welcomed four of the eight African-Americans elected as Republicans, with the remaining representatives declining to join. Utah Republican Mia Love currently has a seat at the table.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the political times of how divided Americans are that even the Hispanic Caucus would close the door on someone with more-conservative views.

That’s not the progressive stance that caucus members like to convey. It’s regressive and myopic.

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