Beyond the Bubble

Millennials’ plan to rein in the right

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, left, is interviewed by Ozy’s Daniel Malloy and McClatchy’s Kristin Roberts at Ozy Fest in New York.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, left, is interviewed by Ozy’s Daniel Malloy and McClatchy’s Kristin Roberts at Ozy Fest in New York. Curbelo

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Republican Carlos Curbelo says Congress’s millennial generation is boxing out GOP “demagogues” on Capitol Hill — dragging the party left on immigration and climate change.

Despite President Donald Trump’s hard right approach to both issues, Curbelo pointed to a recent immigration vote as proof the Republican mainstream now embraces policies the far right has “decried as amnesty.”

In a special live taping of Beyond the Bubble on Saturday, Curbelo also laid out plans for an ambitious climate change proposal he’s introducing on Capitol Hill. He said the majority of Republicans now “acknowledge either publicly or privately” that human beings are responsible for climate change, and they make up a growing share of the lawmakers in the Climate Solutions Caucus he founded.

“The rise of the millennial generation in the Congress is going to help turn the page on this ugly chapter in our nation’s politics,” said Curbelo, who is 38.

“I hope that our baby boomer colleagues realize that they that are at risk of leaving behind an ugly political legacy,” he added.

Curbelo’s Miami congressional district is challenging territory for Republicans. His constituents care deeply about climate change and immigration, and voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 16 percentage points in 2016 — a bigger margin than any GOP-held congressional district in the country where the incumbent is seeking re-election.

“I think in every district, people are going to go to the polls and ask themselves, ‘Is my representative representing my community?’” said Curbelo, who spent much of the summer pushing GOP leaders for an immigration vote that would offer a path to legal status for children brought into the country by their parents.

Though the proposal failed to garner enough support from conservatives or liberals to advance from the House, Curbelo called the vote a victory for shifting his party’s opinion on the issue.

“Not only did every Republican leader vote for it, but a majority of House Republicans” agreed that “young immigrants who were brought to the country as children through no fault of their own can have a future in this country,” said Curbelo.

Curbelo’s climate plan faces similar challenges in the House.

It calls for $700 billion in infrastructure, as well as a carbon tax that most Republicans hate. Its goal for reducing carbon emissions goes further than the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump pulled the United States out of last year.

Downplaying his plans’ chances of becoming law, Curbelo said it would at least “make people think long and hard.” He pointed to 43 Republicans in a caucus dedicated to stopping climate change’s effects as evidence the party is “starting to see things change” on the issue.

“I get the sense that for most of us, the under-40 crowd so to speak, re-election is not our only goal in Congress,” said Curbelo. “We want to be effective, we want to be honest, and we’re willing to take more risk.”

(Listen to last week’s episode of Beyond the Bubble: The GOP’s case for Senate pickups)

The GOP’s more pragmatic members make up the a large share of Democrats’ top targets this fall.

Republicans Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Jeff Denham, R-California, were among Curbelo’s biggest partners on the immigration push this year. All face tough challenges from the left in an election that traditionally favors the party out of power in the White House.

“If not me, you certainly need members like me in Congress that are willing to partake in that third way faction,” said Curbelo. “Things are devolving every day… I think we need more and more people who are willing to be criticized by people on both sides.”

In particular, Curbelo complained that Trump’s recent visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin had damaged relations with allies and put the country at a “low point” when it comes to foreign policy.

“If you are attacking the president you are putting yourself at risk,” he added. “Certainly I think some Republicans are reticent to do so because they’re fearful of what the next primary could mean.”

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Kristin Roberts, editor for McClatchy’s East region, and Daniel Malloy, political editor for Ozy, recorded this episode at Ozy Fest in New York, July 21, 2018.