By rejecting GOP congressman, Hispanic Caucus rejects civility

By rejecting GOP congressman, Hispanic Caucus rejects civility
© Getty

Stick to your own kind. On Thursday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus voted against allowing Republican Congressman Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloOvernight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress Democratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime MORE of Florida to join their ranks. The all-Democratic group rejected Curbelo’s application for membership on the grounds that the positions held by the Cuban-American lawmaker were inconsistent with their values. In response, Curbelo took to Twitter to slam what he called the “pathetic attempt” by the Caucus to “justify discrimination, bigotry, and intolerance against a fellow Hispanic.”

This whole episode makes everyone involved look partisan and petty. By keeping Curbelo out, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus appears to be acting in its own interests, rather than those of Hispanic Americans. This is a sad example of how infighting among Latinos keeps our community from moving forward together.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) was founded in December 1976 as a legislative service organization of the House of Representatives. It used to be bipartisan, until Republicans left and formed their own group in 2003. The CHC currently has 31 members, all Democrats. Curbelo, who represents a district in Florida that is 70 percent Latino, applied to join the group in January.

In some respects, Curbelo is not your typical Republican. He has advocated on behalf of undocumented immigrant youth and recipients of Temporary Protected Status. He believes in climate change, and co-founded the House Climate Solutions Caucus. He says he was the first Republican lawmaker to publicly discuss impeaching President Trump. He has applauded the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Wouldn’t it serve the mission of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to have him as a member?

According to the Caucus, no. CHC spokesman Carlos Paz Jr. announced the group’s rejection of Curbelo by saying:

“The CHC isn’t just an organization for Hispanics; it is a caucus that represents certain values. This vote reflects the position of many of our members that Rep. Curbelo and his record are not consistent with those values.”  

That sounds good, and the CHC is certainly entitled to admit who it chooses. Yet CHC leadership might be wise to look at the example of the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE, a Republican from Utah, or the Florida State Legislative Hispanic Caucus, which is bipartisan. Otherwise the group should consider changing its name to the Democratic Hispanic Caucus. If they are going to deny Republicans membership along party lines, they might as well keep things real.    

CHC members are reportedly unhappy with Curbelo’s refusal to co-sponsor the Dream Act, although he has stated that he would support it if it was brought up for a vote. Caucus members also did not like the fact that Curbelo voted for the GOP tax bill, and is in favor of repealing Obamacare. “Many of those votes in this climate gave members who voted no, and maybe other members, pause about whether or not this was a good time for changing membership,” CHC chairwoman Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico says EPA abandoned state in fight against toxic 'forever chemicals' Walmart to stop selling guns in New Mexico New Mexico governor to Nike after Arizona snub: 'Let's talk' MORE (D-N.M.) told Politico.  

Grisham and her Caucus are missing the bigger picture. If there were ever a time when Latinos desperately need political unity and clout, it is now. The Trump administration often seems indifferent to Latino concerns. Two months after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, the island remains in a state of crisis. Hispanics in South Texas and Florida are still dealing with the aftermath of Harvey and Irma. Each day that Congress delays action on DACA, 122 Dreamers lose their status and could potentially be at risk for deportation. The Caucus would have been smart to bring in Curbelo, as well as other Republicans, so that they could more effectively advocate for all Hispanics.   

True, Curbelo may be seeking membership in the Caucus because he recognizes that his seat is vulnerable in the midterms; a Public Policy Polling survey puts his approval rate at 37 percent. All that means is that Democrats should push hard to flip his seat in 2018. Until then, instead of telling Curbelo “You can’t sit with us,” the Caucus should be saying “Let’s work together.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus was misguided to reject Curbelo. Political values evolve along with society and democracy. But values like inclusion and cooperation never go out of style.  

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.