By Jared Allen - 03/18/10 08:25 PM EDT
President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) secured a critical bloc of healthcare votes on Thursday when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) announced its support.
Half a dozen members of the CHC held a news conference to announce their support. They were unhappy with language that barred illegal immigrants from accessing the public health insurance exchanges. More than a dozen had threatened to vote against the Senate bill and its companion reconciliation package. The House healthcare bill, which passed by two votes, won the support of every member of the Hispanic Caucus.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who previously stated he would vote against the bill, said at the news conference that he changed his mind after having a series of conversations with Obama during which the president renewed his commitment to immigration reform.
Gutierrez was joined by Democratic Reps. Charles Gonzalez (Texas), Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Joe Baca (Calif.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) at the news conference.
Hispanic Democrats said they decided to strengthen their own cause and the president’s hand by helping him attain a major victory. They also said they have set the stage for addressing the public-exchange issue after the healthcare bill becomes law.
“I’ve been a legislator for 35 years,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.). “Once you have a law on the books, you can amend it as time goes on.”
Gutierrez said he would let Obama announce the details of his immigration reform commitment.
In private conversations, members of the CHC said the decision was reached Thursday morning, and came soon after the unavoidable realization that the bill couldn’t survive without their votes.
“The whole yolk of defeat would be on the 20 people in that room,” a member of the CHC said. “And that was a fact.”
"More often than not, appeals to the "greater good" come at the expense of the most vulnerable communities."
The group supported the original House healthcare reform bill.
Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.