Despite Delays, Curbelo Continues to Push for Bipartisan Dialogue with Congressional Hispanic Colleagues
Hispanic? Yes. Democrat? No. Why the Hispanic Caucus is slow-walking Carlos Curbelo
By Lesley Clark
October 4, 2017
WASHINGTON – In a Capitol riven by partisan divisions, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, says he thought it might help matters to work across the aisle with his Democratic Hispanic colleagues.
In February, he met with the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and asked about joining. Eight months later, he's still waiting for an invitation.
"I just don't understand what's so difficult," Curbelo said Wednesday. "They have to decide if this is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or if it’s the Congressional Hispanic country club for liberals."
It’s a work in progress, insists caucus chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico, who joked that his request is “moving far faster than anything that ever happens in Congress.” She called it a “good approach” to start with allowing Curbelo to sit on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a non-profit affiliated organization, before expanding the caucus.
The Congressional Black Caucus is open to black lawmakers of any party, as long as they “embrace our values,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat and former chairman of the CBC.
Current members include Rep. Mia Love, a Utah Republican who doesn’t always agree with the caucus’ position but “contributes significantly to our deliberations,” Butterfield said. For example, Love participated enthusiastically as the caucus discussed the status of hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands at its meeting on Wednesday, Butterfield said.
But he said he empathizes with the Hispanic caucus.
“It’s a very delicate issue because we want to be collegial with our colleagues, but when you’re a caucus you have a special interest and if you don’t subscribe to that interest then you don’t have a seat at the table,” he said.
To accommodate the sometimes partisan nature of its work, Butterfield said the caucus convenes a Democratic session when it wants to talk partisan business. “Republican members understand that,” he said.
Curbelo is a top target for national Democrats eager to take his Democratic-leaning district in south Florida in 2018, but insisted his bid to join the caucus is not politically motivated. He said he waited until after the November election to put in his request, but did so knowing that immigration would be a major issue for Congress under the Trump administration.
“I thought it would be very important for Hispanic Americans to come together and speak with one voice,” Curbelo said. “We’re fighting for a lot of the same things ... yet we’re not in the same room, talking strategy, thinking together, figuring out what the best way forward is.”
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