Dem tensions explode in Hispanic Caucus over Trump

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Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) voted last month to tap $50,000 from the group’s political arm to attack Donald Trump’s finance chairman in Texas — but not without a good deal of tension.
Several Hispanic lawmakers from Texas championed the effort, but their strategy was challenged by a powerful voice: Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
{mosads}Becerra opposed the move, arguing the attacks wouldn’t directly help Hispanic candidates get elected, as required under the bylaws of the CHC’s political action committee, known as the Bold PAC.
The objection forced a rare roll call vote of the PAC members — a vote Becerra lost 13-4 — while highlighting fissures within the Hispanic Caucus over how best to attack Trump and exploit the divisive rhetoric and policy positions that have offended many Latinos.
The dispute also led to some heated sniping between members of the usually cohesive Hispanic Caucus, with at least one Texas lawmaker suggesting Becerra’s opposition has alienated many of his colleagues and damaged any plans he has to ascend the Democratic leadership ladder.
“I see no way in hell that I could support him for Democratic leadership,” Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) said Wednesday by phone. “I like Xavier Becerra personally. I just think in this particular instance, this is a time for us to stand up.”
Becerra was on a short list of Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential picks and is widely viewed to have leadership ambitions beyond caucus chairman. Through his office, he declined to comment for this story.
But some other CHC members said tensions surrounding the vote on the so-called “Texas Effort” were exceptionally high for the usually close-knit caucus.
“We don’t have that many like this,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who supported the campaign, said by phone this week.
The fight was sparked by Dennis Nixon, the CEO of IBC Bank and Trump’s Texas finance chairman. Among the largest banks in Texas, IBC is based in the border city of Laredo and caters widely to Hispanic customers, many living south of the border. Its logo features a rough map of the United States and Mexico.
Nixon sent a June 8 letter to “friends and colleagues” warning that a Hillary Clinton victory would be a disaster for the country and requesting donations for both Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC). Nixon himself vowed to give $36,100.
CHC members are furious that Nixon, who has prospered serving a largely Hispanic clientele, would simultaneously fundraise for a presidential candidate who has attacked Mexicans as criminals, questioned the character of an American judge based on his Hispanic heritage, vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and pledged to fortify the wall at the southern border.
“Trump’s a racist; we all know it,” Vela said. “And Dennis Nixon agreed to be the state finance chair for a racist.”
Elaine Matthews, a spokeswoman for IBC Bank, said Thursday that Nixon was “in meetings” and not available to comment. But she sent a reporter the June 8 letter, in which Nixon notes “some major disagreements” with Trump “on trade, immigration, and his attitude toward Mexico.”
Matthews also sent a second letter, dated June 15, from another IBC executive to a Hispanic state lawmaker who’d expressed his own concerns about Nixon’s support for Trump. In it, Senior Vice President Eddie Aldrete rejects the notion that Nixon would ever endorse bigotry and emphasizes that Nixon’s political positions are his own, not the bank’s.
“IBC has not, does not and will not make political endorsements,” Aldrete wrote.
Unconvinced, Vela and Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) approached Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), chairman of the Bold PAC, requesting that something be done to counter Nixon’s efforts. The lawmakers decided upon the $50,000 campaign to target Nixon on social media.
“IBC is the largest minority-owned-bank founded by a Latino whose success has been a direct result of the Latino community in Texas,” reads an internal email sent by a Democratic consultant to Bold PAC members on July 15. “We need to hold those who support Trump at the expense of hardworking Latinos accountable.”
A week later, on July 22, another consultant email revealed a snag: A CHC member had objected over concerns the money was being allotted in defiance of PAC rules. The grievance forced the consultants to huddle with their outside legal team, which determined that, if most CHC members agreed, then the campaign would meet one of the PAC’s primary goals: “To increase the number and influence of Hispanics in national office.”
Still, the dispute forced a formal roll-call vote on the Texas Effort, and Becerra made clear ahead of the tally that he wasn’t on board.
The California Democrat appeared most concerned that the campaign would target someone not on the ballot — “and possibly sets a precedent for targeting others who support Trump” — without promoting Hispanic Democrats directly.
“I understand the desire to press the issue of Trump and those who support him especially when it’s at the expense of Latinos,” Becerra wrote in an email sent on July 23. “But I don’t understand how the expenditure of $50k via social media to denounce the support of Trump by Mr. Nixon either falls within BOLD’s bylaws for appropriate activity or furthers our purpose of supporting and helping Latino candidates.”
Others disagreed, arguing that the attacks on Nixon would help all Democrats simply by keeping Trump’s divisive comments against Hispanics in the spotlight. Among their top goals, Democrats are hoping to pick up the Texas border district where GOP Rep. Will Hurd is being challenged by former Rep. Pete Gallego, a popular Hispanic Democrat defeated by Hurd in 2014.
“You’ve … highlighted, once again, the comments and reminded voters what Trump has said,” Grijalva said Tuesday. “So all candidates running get some traction.”
Cardenas, who supported the funding, tried to temper the dispute ahead of the vote.
“Each and every one of our individual opinions helps us as an organization achieve the goals of electing more Hispanics to Congress,” he said in an email sent on July 24. 
And, ultimately, the funding was approved and the campaign will proceed. But some of the friction remains.
Vela said it’s “baffling” that an Hispanic lawmaker of Becerra’s stature would oppose a campaign designed to take on a Trump surrogate in a heavily Hispanic part of the country.
“To me, it’s a good thing that we have new Hispanic leadership in the Caucus, and I’m not talking about myself,” Vela said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to take a stand.”
Tags Congressional Hispanic Caucus Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Immigration Pete Gallego Xavier Becerra
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