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GOP’s Curbelo expected to join caucus that’s been Democrats-only

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, is joined by, from left, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as they talk about the GOP agenda for tax reform during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, is joined by, from left, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as they talk about the GOP agenda for tax reform during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. AP

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's effort to join a Democratic-only congressional caucus is about to pay off with an invite.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus meets Thursday and Curbelo is expected to be accepted, the caucus chairwoman told McClatchy on Wednesday. Letters will go out to all Republican members of Congress who are Hispanic and caucus votes will follow, but Curbelo is almost certainly to be welcomed aboard, said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. Other GOP members could also join.

“He got us to a good place,” Grisham said of the Cuban-American Curbelo’s push to join the caucus, which began with his appointment to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a non-profit affiliated organization.

The caucus that the Miami-area congressman is now likely to join is a forum for issues of concern to the Latino community. It now consists of 31 Democrats.

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who said he’s not interested in joining the caucus.

He said the two groups have a “cordial” relationship and work together, but ”it’s pretty clear that there’s a partisan divide.”

Curbelo, who is up for re-election in 2018 in a Democratic-leaning district in Miami, had asked to join the Democrats-only Congressional Hispanic Caucus eight months ago, but said he was left wondering what happened to his application.

“I feel like when people gather in St. Peter’s Square awaiting the smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel,” Curbelo said, joking as he likened his acceptance to the group to the top-secret selection of a new pope.

He said he was grateful his request was being taken seriously, but added, “It should be an easy decision. My goal and my intention is to work constructively with all of those members on a lot of the issues that unite us.”

Curbelo said he talked with several members who told him they were “excited” to have him join: “This can only be good,” he said. “There’s no downside to this. They’re all Democrats, but even amongst themselves they have disagreements.”

Curbelo is a top target for national Democrats eager to win his Democratic-leaning district in south Florida in 2018, but has insisted his bid to join the caucus is not politically motivated. He said he waited until after last year’s election to put in the request.

Lujan Grisham and Curbelo said they have overlapping interests, primarily immigration. Members of the caucus have championed the Dream Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. It has both Republican and Democratic support.

Curbelo is not a co-sponsor of the Dream Act, but has said on Twitter he would vote for “any” of the legislation that supports the Dreamers. He is the sponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children Act, a bill that would provide Dreamers a path to citizenship, but is considered a narrower, more conservative alternative to the Dream Act that might encourage more Republicans to get on board.

With Curbelo on board, the caucus is likely to follow the example of the Congressional Black Caucus, which convenes a Democrats-only session when it wants to talk partisan business.

“We want the same understanding, that if there’s something very specific about how we’re going to communicate with the White House or how we’re going to communicate with (House Speaker Paul) Ryan, we want to make sure we can do that without creating issues,” Lujan Grisham said. “I will absolutely make sure that we feel good about how we’re having meetings and everyone gets the benefit of being in a bipartisan caucus.”

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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