Hispanic Caucus to invite Republicans to join

Hispanic Caucus to invite Republicans to join
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) will soon invite two Republican representatives to join the currently all-Democrat group.

Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal MORE are set to receive invitation letters, 20 years after Hispanic Republicans left the CHC in protest.

Curbelo has been actively lobbying to join the caucus, taking steps like joining the advisory board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute — an educational foundation linked to the CHC and traditionally led by Democrats.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ros-Lehtinen was among the Republicans who originally left the CHC in 1997 over disagreements on Cuba policy, among other issues. She was a founding member of the Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference in 2003. 

After receiving the invitation letters, Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo will have to formally accept the invitation and apply to join the CHC. Per CHC bylaws, their applications will then be subject to a majority vote of the 31 CHC members. 

Congressional Hispanic Conference Chairman Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told The Hill Curbelo's presence in the Democratic group could present unique challenges. 

"The reality is, just from what I've heard, well, they might accept Carlos but then they're going to have to throw him out when they're dealing with partisan issues," said Diaz-Balart. "I don't have a problem with that, but the reality is that, in essence, that's why there's been two and why they're partisan."

A Democratic staffer added that some CHC members are concerned about what becoming a bipartisan organization would mean to its role in countering President Trump's policies, which the caucus sees as harmful to Hispanics.

The CHC has been deeply critical of the Trump administration, primarily over its immigration policies, but also on issues like health care, taxes and criminal justice. 

Ros-Lehtinen's invitation came as a surprise for many, but Democrats said she's expressed interest informally in rejoining the group she left two decades ago.

Ros-Lehtinen is due to retire at the end of this term, easing her path on the electoral front, and she's espoused many of the social policy positions that Democrats prioritize, particularly on LGBT rights. 

She's also the House co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, along with Rep. Lucille Roybal Allard (D-Calif.), daughter of former Rep. Edward Roybal (D-Calif.), the founder of the CHC.

Curbelo has been an outspoken proponent of immigration reform — ideologically in line with the CHC — but his case could be hampered by friction generated in his drawn-out application process. 

Democrats are especially riled that Curbelo, while a supporter of immigration reform and relief for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, has not signed on to the DREAM Act, their preferred vehicle for such relief.

Curbelo also rubbed some CHC members the wrong way in October, when he complained about the group's slow handling of his application. 

"They have to decide if this is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or if it’s the Congressional Hispanic country club for liberals," he said

And Curbelo is a top target for Democrats come 2018, after twice defeating former CHC member Joe GarciaJose (Joe) Antonio GarciaOvernight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service Mueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent MORE in a district that Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSenate panel subpoenas Roger Stone associate for Russia probe Webb: The new mob: Anti-American Dems Clinton to hold fundraiser for Menendez in NJ next month MORE won by 16 points in the presidential race.

Diaz-Balart said there's "a lot of communication" between the Republican and Democratic groups and that, regardless of who is admitted to the CHC, he would expect the group to follow on its partisan path.

"Carlos is a guy who likes to break party lines, he's good at that and I commend him for it, but I think the reality is they're still going to be partisan, whether they accept it or not," said Díaz-Balart.