Long-simmering frustrations within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus reached a crescendo on the House floor Friday, as Members staged a fiery confrontation with Democratic leaders and threatened to sink key tax legislation.
Prompted by a late Thursday night vote that effectively would curb federal workplace protections for non-English speakers — a proposal that CHC members have derided as an “English-only” initiative — the 20-member caucus moved to derail a major tax reform bill.
“We’re not going to stand for it,” said CHC Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), who said Democratic leaders must commit to addressing the concerns of the Hispanic caucus. “We’re tired of the hate. There is so much hate and racism that is coming out.”
As the House moved to approve parameters for debate on the alternative minimum tax measure, CHC lawmakers voted against the rule — and, with Republicans opposed to the bill, nearly blocked the measure from reaching the House floor — before ultimately switching their votes to allow the rule to pass.
During the vote, Baca could be seen on the House floor involved in an animated conversation with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Although the exchange was not audible, one Hispanic Democrat who observed the discussion described the incident on the condition that he not be identified.
“It got pretty heated,” said the lawmaker. “People were turning red.”
According to the lawmaker, at one point, Hoyer stood precariously close to the CHC chairman — towering over his smaller colleague — and shouted: “How dare you destroy this party! This will be the biggest loss in the last 10 years.”
Baca allegedly retorted: “And we’re going to keep doing it until you guys get it!”
During the exchange, Pelosi also raised her voice, pointing to the electronic board that displays the current vote tally and stating “at the top of her lungs”: “You see this up on the board? This is against me personally!”
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Pelosi demurred when asked about the conversation, stating: “I told them to pay attention to what Mr. Hoyer was telling them about what was going on on the floor.”
Hoyer remained mute on the subject during the press conference but in a separate interview said: “The Hispanic Caucus was justifiably angry about the vote on the English-only.”
The Maryland lawmaker added that during his tenure as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, the ability of people to speak a language other than the main national language in other countries was considered “a human right.”
He also described his request for CHC members to alter their votes as an “emphatic ‘please.’”
Although the House approved the rule allowing the tax reform measure to move to the floor, CHC members further delayed the process by moving to adjourn the House and forcing another tense vote.
According to a CHC estimate, the tally came within three votes of forcing the House to adjourn for the week — leaving the tax measure unfinished — before Members once again switched their votes to oppose the motion and keep the chamber in session.
“When they were so angry, we knew we had made our point,” the Hispanic Democrat said of House leadership’s reaction to the CHC strategy.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.