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Hispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021

Hispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021
© Bloomberg/Pool

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) touted its increasing numbers and high-profile clashes with the Trump administration in a new report highlighting its accomplishments and efforts during the 116th Congress.

Throughout the biennial report released Thursday, the CHC contrasted its activities with those of an administration it called “corrupt,” “cruel” and exhibiting a “culture of death.”

The report shines a light on a caucus that’s grown more in relevance than in true political power, as its core issues have been thrust onto the national stage during the last four years by President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE.

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“It’s been a very busy and intense two years for the CHC,” said Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroSunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers Lawmaker to unveil bill ensuring nothing — 'no airport, no highway, no school' — is named after Trump MORE (D-Texas), the group’s chairman.

“Members have been active on so many issues, including many at the forefront of major conversations, controversies and disputes in American society,” he added.

The 50-plus page report reflects a CHC that’s taken ownership of those issues and become more involved; for instance, the caucus led eight congressional delegations to hot spots like immigrant detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The 39-member group has also quickly become an obligatory reference point for almost any Democratic lawmaker addressing issues of poverty, inequality and immigration.

“Fortunately, the larger Democratic Caucus has been very supportive of the CHC and the way we have taken on issues that have always been under our purview, like the immigration issue, but also expanding out to issues of diversity in the Congress and in the media, for example,” said Castro.

While CHC members have a wide range of opinions, the group has for the most part shown unity when confronting the administration, and in most instances when arguing its case within the broader Democratic Caucus.

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But the CHC has also had to balance the needs of new members and how the group fits into the overall Democratic majority in the House.

“You have to manage the growth in membership and division of perspectives and also sometimes a battle for territory within the larger Democratic Caucus,” said Castro.

When Democrats won back the House in November 2018, the CHC had to create new alliances and build on existing ones to better confront Trump and advance its agenda within the Democratic House.

One initiative led by Castro within the CHC was to join forces with the Congressional Black Caucus under Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassDemocrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help Rep. Bass tweets photo of Trump in response to FBI call for information on rioters San Francisco mayor says Harris replacement pick 'a real blow to the African American community' MORE (D-Calif.), the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus under Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuWhy Biden's diversity efforts fall flat Asian lawmakers set sights on Biden's Labor secretary pick House Democrats introduce bill to address diversity at State Department MORE (D-Calif.) and the Native American Caucus under Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden recommits US to Paris climate accord | Biden nixes Keystone XL permit, halts Arctic refuge leasing | Interior secretary rescinds wilderness protection order before leaving office Record number of women to serve in Biden Cabinet Interior secretary rescinds wilderness protection order before leaving office MORE (D-N.M.) on a variety of issues.

“Judy and Karen and I worked from the very beginning of our terms to come together early on a shared agenda and vision and execute from there,” said Castro, whose CHC leadership position expires at the end of this Congress.

The race to succeed him is heating up, with Reps. Nannette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Raul RuizRaul RuizThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' California Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 CHC Chair Castro nominates 'Selena' for National Film Registry MORE (D-Calif.) and Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics House Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military MORE (D-Texas) competing for the top spot.

Democrats are cautiously optimistic about November’s presidential election, but if they succeed in defeating Trump, the CHC will have to once again reinvent its role in the absence of its chief antagonist.

Barragán argued that the CHC will continue to grow in large part because issues disproportionately affecting Hispanics and other people of color are core issues in American political life.

“The issues that impact Latinos are issues that impact all of us,” she said.

Latinos, who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, regularly list health care and the economy as their top priorities. The environment and climate change are also generally top concerns, as many Latinos live in the most polluted areas of the country, or in regions heavily affected by climate change, like California.

The contenders for the CHC chair say their legislative goals won’t change even if former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' MORE is elected.

“The vitriol the president has unleashed won’t go away even if he loses, and the CHC must play a strong role in the 117th Congress to not just be the conscience of the Congress on issues related to Latinos, immigrants, and the right to dignity and respect for every human being, but indeed to be the conscience of the country,” said Escobar.

Barragán and Ruiz both said the CHC will maintain an aggressive legislative agenda.

“You aim for big bold things and then you have to negotiate,” said Barragán. “We want to continue to put forward legislation and ideas and solutions that CHC members support, and we should start big because the problems we’re talking about are big.”

Ruiz said watering down bills “is not a champion’s perspective.”

“There’s no way that with a path to passage that may open because of change in the White House and the Senate, that [bills are] going to be watered down or softened,” added Ruiz.

The CHC’s first vice chair, Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoThe best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Ariz.), said that under a unified government, Democrats and the CHC will have to deliver on Hispanic legislative priorities or risk becoming “a failed caucus” that disincentivizes Hispanics from voting.

“If we have the White House and Senate, we’re going to have to start delivering on priorities,” he said, using immigration reform and voting rights reform as examples.

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Gallego, as first vice chair, was slated to succeed Castro, but instead decided to run to head Bold PAC, the CHC’s campaign arm.

As Latino voters become a core element of the Democratic coalition, CHC members say they are going to remind their colleagues in Congress that those voters require motivation to head to the polls.

“There’s going to have to be a realization at a broader scale that if Latinos don’t get a win in Congress that you’re going to see Latinos stop voting,” said Gallego.