Hispanic Caucus boasts record membership in new Congress

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) will grow to 39 members on Thursday, marking the largest group of Hispanic Democrats in congressional history.

Nine new CHC members will be sworn in as lawmakers for the 116th Congress, which will include the highest representation of Hispanics from both parties on Capitol Hill. Republicans left the Democratic-heavy CHC in 2003 to form their own Hispanic caucus.

ADVERTISEMENT

"This 116th Congress welcomes the largest Hispanic Caucus since our founding, near doubling the size of women in our ranks and picking up some of the youngest members of the Freshman class,” said Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroLive coverage: Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies in public impeachment hearing Ex-Simpsons writer accuses Republicans of 'Sideshow Bob defense' in WaPo op-ed Democrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing MORE (D-Texas), the incoming CHC chairman, in an email Wednesday to The Hill. “It’s clear the Democratic Congress is becoming more and more representative of our nation, and the growing Latino American community."

But even with the CHC’s electoral accomplishments, Hispanic representation in Washington still is not proportional to the demographic’s share of the U.S. population. With 35 voting members, the CHC represents 7.5 percent of House lawmakers, while Hispanics represent 18.1 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau.

When adding in the six Republican voting lawmakers of Hispanic origin, Hispanics will account for 9 percent of the House.

By comparison, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will have 52 House members, or 12 percent of the chamber, with African Americans comprising 13.4 percent of the population.

Despite the gap in proportional representation, the Hispanic footprint in Congress has accelerated over the past three elections.

And that acceleration is coming at a time when issues that affect minority communities disproportionately -- immigration, for instance -- are taking on a larger role in the national discourse.

Republican Hispanics, many of whom are at loggerheads with the Trump administration over immigration policy, have hovered in the single digits in recent years, though they've lost national figures such as Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenEx-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company Republican Salazar seeks rematch with Shalala in key Miami House district MORE (Fla.) to retirement and Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloRepublicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign The Memo: Bad polls for Trump shake GOP MORE (Fla.) to a failed reelection bid.

Republican Hispanic operatives like Mario H. López, former executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Conference and president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund (HLF), see the president's stances as a growing threat, while warning of the incompatibility of GOP ideals and Democratic-style identity politics.

"The trap that the left wants us to fall in is kind of a quota mentality, and that's not something HLF would ever encourage or a road Republicans should go down," he said.

But López, a Californian, pointed to the plummeting fortunes of the California GOP as an example of why his party should rethink its Hispanic strategy.

California's Republicans have faced growing opposition from Latino voters since 1994, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson (R) won reelection with an immigration message similar to Trump's.

Only eight Republicans won House seats November, out of 53 up for grabs in the state.

Lopez called the state party's attitude toward immigration the "culmination of 20 years of self destruction, and warning signs for the national party and state parties like Texas."

"The party would do well to heed the warnings of California," added López.

GOP Hispanics in Congress, meanwhile, tend to highlight the growing Latino population.

“I am proud to be among the rising number of Hispanics in Congress,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), chairman of the GOP Congressional Hispanic Conference. “The Hispanic community in the United States continues to grow and is here to stay.”

Democrats are banking on increasing Latino voter participation nationwide by highlighting issues such as immigration to build a loyal constituency.

According to a post-midterm study by Democratic pollsters Latino Decisions, 73 percent of Hispanics voted for Democratic candidates in November.

That study also found skyrocketing participation rates in Latino-heavy communities like El Paso County in Texas, which saw a 168 percent increase.

"It’s clear the Democratic Congress is becoming more and more representative of our nation, and the growing Latino American community,” Castro said. “Our caucus looks forward to working with House and Senate leadership to achieve equal opportunities for all Americans, while holding this Administration accountable for its abhorrent immigration policies. In doing so, we can help deliver results for the American people regardless of the socioeconomic background or color of their skin.”

 

This post was corrected Jan. 3 at 12:45 p.m. to reflect that the CHC will have 39, not 37, members.