Curbelo Builds Relationships Over Boquerones and Basketball

Miami congressman uses experience refereeing high school basketball for perspective

Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo says some Cuban restaurants back home in Miami are places that politicians campaigning there make a pilgrimage to. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call)

When Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo is in Washington, he tends to frequent the Spanish restaurant Joselito and says he has brought many Republican members with him.

“I’ve been here with Bill Shuster, Rodney Davis, David Joyce. I Saw Jared Polis here one night, who is a good friend,” Curbelo said during dinner with Roll Call at the restaurant.

Curbelo said he likes Joselito, which opened last year on Pennsylvania Avenue SE near Capitol Hill, because it reminds him of home.

“We have a lot of good Spanish restaurants back in Miami and you can find some healthy options here,” he said over plates of jamon, garbanzo bean puree and boquerones, a type of anchovy.

Watch: Curbelo Talks Basketball and Bipartisanship at Eastern Market Spanish Joint

When Curbelo is back home, he says he gets more of his share of Cuban food, and restaurants like Versailles Cuban Bakery have become places for politicians campaigning in Florida to make a pilgrimage.

“In Miami, it’s a good size restaurant right in the entrance of Little Havana and Calle Ocho,” he said. “When Fidel Castro died, that’s where a lot of people congregated.”

As Cuba goes through major changes after the death of Cuba’s longtime president, former President Barack Obama negotiating with Cuba, and current President Donald Trump rescinding parts of Obama’s deals, Curbelo says Cuban restaurants in Miami have become a place for younger people to connect with their heritage.

“I think a lot of people do it as a way to remember their grandparents, if they’ve passed or just to kind of feel at home,” he said. “It’s very special and we do in our culture like to use food and coffee as an opportunity to discuss issues — it’s just a wonderful place to congregate, these Latin restaurants.”

‘Everyone yells at you’

Curbelo — who is serving his second term in the House and has worked with Democrats on issues like climate change and immigration — said he often draws on his experience as a high school basketball referee when he was in college for prespective.

“When you’re the referee in a game, it’s very rare that anyone thanks you,” he said. “If you do a good job, people won’t notice you. If you do a bad job, everyone yells at you, sometimes very nasty things.”

Curbelo said he and other members occasionally play basketball and said the Republican caucus has some strong players.

“The stars, at least on the Republican side, are Darin LaHood and Ryan Costello,” he said

Curbelo also said he plays in the two congressional basketball games in which members play either lobbyists or Georgetown University Law faculty.

Curbelo said there aren’t many Democrats who shoot hoops as much as Republicans, but when asked about if there were any members of Democratic caucus he would like to stuff in the paint, he demurred.

“I’m going to stick to my bipartisan demeanor,” he said. “We need to recruit some more basketball players.”

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