Dems dismiss Hispanic Caucus feud with Republican as ‘noise’

Dems dismiss Hispanic Caucus feud with Republican as ‘noise’
© Greg Nash

Democratic leaders said Tuesday that the public feud between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHouse Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA House passes concealed carry gun bill 34 House Republicans demand DACA action this year MORE (R-Fla.) won’t derail the effort to help “Dreamers” before the end of the year.

Curbelo is actively seeking to join the CHC, which hasn’t had a Republican member in two decades, but he has infuriated the group’s members by declining to endorse the Dream Act and by suggesting Rep. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamDACA advocates see efforts gaining steam in the House By rejecting GOP congressman, Hispanic Caucus rejects civility Hispanic Caucus rejects Republican's request to join MORE (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the caucus, is an unfit leader because she doesn’t speak Spanish.

The bickering is seen as a potential impediment to the bipartisan effort to shield immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump rescinded in September.

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But Democratic leaders said the CHC-Curbelo strife, while a distraction, won’t scuttle the DACA debate altogether.

“The issue with Congressman Curbelo is just background noise,” Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), former head of the CHC, told reporters in the Capitol. “We continue to push for a negotiation with the president and with the Republican leadership.”

Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, agreed, calling the Curbelo feud “a great deal of noise.”

Still, the feud is growing more personal, and Sánchez, echoing the concerns of many CHC members, accused Curbelo of seeking a spot on the CHC merely to help his chances of winning reelection in a tough district in next year’s midterm election. She strongly suggested she'll oppose his bid for CHC membership.

“I find highly offensive his remarks that Michelle Lujan Grisham should not be the chair because she doesn’t speak Spanish,” Sánchez said. “There are a lot of members in the Hispanic Caucus that don’t speak Spanish that are committed to trying to address the issues in the Hispanic community.

“And that just tells me that he’s immature, and doesn’t really have the interests of our community at heart.”

The CHC has not seated a Republican since 1997, when several GOP lawmakers left in protest of what they felt was the group’s overly Democratic lean.

Curbelo is hoping to return the CHC to its bipartisan roots. In a letter sent Monday to Lujan Grisham, he acknowledged an occasional “difference of opinions on legislative strategies and goals,” but also argued he should be a member given his “commitment to advancing the interests of America’s Hispanic community.” 

“I am very hopeful that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will send a strong message to the country that it welcomes all Hispanics and that it rejects the petty politics of exclusion and discrimination,” he wrote.

The letter was first reported by Politico.

The CHC members will vote as early as this week on whether to admit Curbelo to the group.

In dismantling DACA, Trump challenged Congress to come up with a legislative fix by March 5, and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) suggested recently that Republicans would like to push the debate into next year. But Capitol Hill Democrats — joined by some Republicans — want to secure those protections before Christmas. 

“Why we haven’t fixed it in the last 60 days is beyond me,” Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Pelosi, Hoyer: Now is not the time to consider impeachment MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, told reporters Tuesday.

Most Democrats, including members of the CHC, are pushing the Dream Act, which provides legal protections — and an eventual pathway to citizenship — for roughly 2.1 million immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Curbelo has sponsored a similar bill, the Recognizing America's Children Act, which would cover 1.7 million people, the group estimates.

Curbelo has said he would vote for the Dream Act if it reaches the floor, but he’s declined to endorse it officially. That dynamic has only fueled the Democrats’ accusations that the Miami Republican — a top target of the Democrats in next year’s elections — is requesting to join the CHC for strictly political reasons.

“If Congressman Curbelo is serious about providing relief, then he should work with us instead of complaining in the media profusely,” Sánchez said, “which is what his preferred … action seems to be.”

This story was updated at 3:50 p.m.