The Hispanic Caucus spurned Carlos Curbelo. Now they’re backing his opponent

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

First, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo he couldn’t crash the all-Democrat group.

Now, they’ve made their allegiances even clearer.

On Wednesday, the caucus’ political arm threw its support to Curbelo’s Democratic challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a potential source of campaign cash as she seeks to unseat Curbelo, a prolific fundraiser himself who enjoys the support of some local Democrats.

Mucarsel-Powell has hit Curbelo on his votes to repeal portions of Obamacare and to overhaul the nation’s tax code, two issues she will likely focus on during a campaign to unseat a Republican who frequently criticizes President Donald Trump in a district that leans Democratic.

“We need real leadership in South Florida on issues impacting our families the most: expanding access to affordable health care and a tax reform bill that helps, not hurts, working families,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. “That’s a far cry from our current Congressman, who has put his party’s leadership in Washington ahead of the needs of hardworking people in Miami. As an immigrant, I’ve lived the American Dream and I’ll work every day to make sure that American Dream is alive and well for South Floridians.”

Carlos Curbelo 3
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami David Santiago

Curbelo’s spokesperson, Joanna Rodriguez, blasted the Hispanic Caucus’ mobilization of resources in an attempt to oust Curbelo in 2018.

“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ extreme partisanship has led them to embrace bigotry and discrimination against any Hispanic American who isn’t a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “The Congressman feels sorry for any candidate who feels desperate enough to embrace the endorsement of individuals who promote bigotry and discrimination against fellow Americans of Hispanic descent. Despite many of the caucus members’ efforts to segregate and divide America’s Hispanic community, Carlos will not stop working with Chairwoman [Michelle Lujan Grisham] and others to find a fair solution for Dreamers.”

Mucarsel-Powell and Curbelo are vying for the Miami-to-Key West seat that is the most Democratic-leaning district in the country represented by a Republican running for reelection in 2018. Multiple election prognosticators have declared the seat a toss-up, though Curbelo has a sizable advantage in fundraising and name recognition.

“As a Latina and an immigrant, Debbie knows exactly what it means to fight for the right to live the American Dream. Unlike her opponent, she shares our values of passing a clean Dream Act, expanding access to healthcare, and improving the lives of hard-working Florida families,” said Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas, chairman of BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Hispanic Caucus. “There is no doubt she is the progressive voice the families of South Florida deserve and a fighter they can always count on to stand up for them in Congress. BOLD PAC is proud to support Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in her campaign to flip Florida’s 26th Congressional District.”

Curbelo tried to join the caucus for months in 2017, privately meeting with lawmakers and joining the organization’s advisory council. But Curbelo’s membership application stalled, and he took his grievances with the caucus public.

“It is truly shameful the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has decided to build a wall around the organization to exclude Hispanic Americans who aren’t registered in the Democratic Party,” Curbelo said after his membership was denied.

Despite being rejected by the Hispanic Caucus over his votes on Obamacare, taxes and not officially signing on to a “clean” Dream Act, caucus chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham recently praised Curbelo’s immigration work in a recent congressional hearing.

“Mr. Curbelo has not stopped working to protect Dreamers,” Lujan Grisham said at a hearing in December. “And despite disagreements about other issues, to his credit, and to ours ... his ideas and his stalwart support here have not gone unnoticed.”

Curbelo plans to vote against a stopgap budget spending bill this week if a solution for 800,000 immigrants known as Dreamers who came to the U.S. as young children isn’t imminent, and he’s signaled support for various pieces of legislation that would provide a solution.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is currently made up of all Democrats, though it once included members from both parties. Several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy along with other issues and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

The Congressional Black Caucus is mostly made up of Democrats, though it counts Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love as a member.

Mucarsel-Powell, a former associate dean of fundraising at FIU and a consultant for nonprofits, is the only Democrat raising serious money in an attempt to unseat Curbelo. She is also the second Miami-area candidate to receive BOLD PAC’s blessing. State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, one of a number of Democrats seeking to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, won their endorsement in September.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty