Rep. Steve Israel is going on a charm offensive with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in advance of the 2012 election cycle, hoping to avoid the tensions that erupted with black Members of Congress earlier this month.
“I’m anxious to meet with the CHC and hope to have it scheduled soon,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman said.
The New York Democrat said his message to CHC members is simple: “We’ve got to get back in the majority, and the only way to get back in the majority is by working together.”
That’s a clear departure from the message some Congressional Black Caucus members say Israel left them with after a recent meeting. Israel reportedly said the CBC would be helpful to Democrats’ 2012 prospects, but not essential. A CBC backlash followed, and the DCCC has since formalized a new working relationship with the CBC.
Now, Israel is looking to solidify his relationship with Hispanics in Congress.
Even though he downplayed the idea that there are historical tensions between the CHC and the DCCC, saying “25 seats are in sight and that bonds us,” Israel appears to be conscious of the need to ingratiate himself with Hispanic lawmakers. Several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said the DCCC needs to work harder to foster a more collaborative approach with minority caucuses.
Rep. Joe Baca said that a meeting with Israel would be a positive step and that there was “not much” of a relationship between the DCCC and the CHC now.
“It should be a lot better, and he needs to reach out,” the California Democrat said. “A lot of us are willing to sit down and talk to him and find out exactly what is he doing, what kind of recruitment, what kind of involvement, because we want to be included, not excluded, as part of that process.”
The ex-CHC chairman stressed it was important for the group to have increased input on recruiting efforts, both to promote Hispanic candidates and also to make sure Democratic recruits do not harbor anti-immigrant views. Some House Democrats’ support for an enforcement-only approach to immigration — such as the SAVE Act sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) — has angered Hispanic lawmakers.
“We’re looking for individuals that are sensitive to the issues that impact our country and our world,” Baca said. “You can’t continue to have individuals that are going to be anti-immigrant, anti-everything else.”
Redistricting also could prompt changes in many districts’ Hispanic populations, further boosting the need for CHC-DCCC collaboration, Baca said.
“Are we now looking for a person that reflects the demographics and the changes in that population?” he asked. “If [Israel] doesn’t dialogue with us, then we end up saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, the candidate that you recruited doesn’t meet the profile ... of that district.’”
CHC members suggested the DCCC needs to hire someone specifically focused on Latino voters and Latino lawmakers.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.