By Josephine Hearn
Several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and their allies off Capitol Hill were furious that House Democratic leaders urged some of their colleagues to vote for an immigration-enforcement bill.
Democratic leaders encouraged members of the Democrats’ Frontline program which aids the party’s 10 most at-risk incumbents to vote for the bill to avert Republican attacks that could paint the vulnerable members as soft on illegal immigration, Democratic aides and lobbying sources said. Every Frontline member ultimately voted for the immigration bill, which enjoyed the support of 36 Democrats overall.
The move by Democratic leaders troubled Hispanic activists.
“We were disappointed in leadership on both sides of the aisle. Republicans brought up a bill that was extraordinary in its ugliness … but frankly there is also some real disappointment at Democratic leadership, particularly those urging Frontline members to support this bill,” said Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza.
“There was no evidence to suggest that this was the correct political move,” Munoz added, arguing that anti-immigration candidates have performed poorly at the polls. “We intend to hold both sides accountable.”
The bill, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and opposed by the CHC and many Hispanic groups, would expand detention facilities and border controls, and would impose work-force restrictions on employers seeking to hire illegal immigrants.
CHC members had been speaking passionately against the bill all last week.
“The Sensenbrenner bill is a vicious and vile attack on our nation’s hardworking immigrant community,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday. “This horrible piece of legislation is not only ill-conceived and fundamentally flawed, but it also will not fix our nation’s broken immigration system.”
All the CHC members voted against the bill save one, Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), a Frontline member who voted to back the bill after being lobbied on the House floor by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the House Democrats’ campaign operation, and by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House sources said.
Emanuel and Hoyer themselves voted against the bill, as did a number of Hispanic Republicans who bucked their party’s leadership.
“Mr. Salazar was certainly in one of the most difficult positions because this bill did damage to his community,” Munoz said. “It was pretty clear he was pressured by the DCCC in very hard-hitting way.
A spokeswoman for Salazar defended the Coloradan’s vote.
“Congressman Salazar believes that this bill was an important step forward in opening up the conversation on comprehensive immigration reform,” said Nayyera Haq. “Congressman Salazar doesn’t vote according to pressure from either party. He votes his district,” she added, noting that another Colorado Democrat, Rep. Mark Udall, had also backed the measure.
A spokeswoman for the DCCC, Sarah Feinberg, disputed the notion that party leaders were working to switch votes.
“That’s not at all an accurate portrayal of the leader-ship’s activity on this bill,” she said. “It’s ultimately up to members to decide how they are going to vote on a certain bill.”
Although few CHC members were available for comment yesterday, several Democratic aides confirmed that some Hispanic lawmakers were concerned when they saw leaders urging Democrats to support the bill.
“Here is a seminal issue for their caucus, and leadership was whipping against it,” said a House Democratic aide. “They were livid.”
After the vote counts became clear during the roll call on the bill late Friday night, Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), both CHC members, confronted Emanuel about his actions.
“It was very clear they were angry about it,” said a House Democratic aide familiar with the encounter.
Emanuel had said privately earlier in the week that he did not wish to spend money defending Democrats who had voted against the enforcement bill, a House source said.
Despite the dust-up over the leaders’ actions, one CHC member reached yesterday, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), said he did not believe that the Frontline members responded to the leaders’ encouragement but rather to their own belief in the bill.
“From everything I know, everyone voted their conscience,” he said. “I spoke to Frontline members because many were undecided right up until the vote. From everything I can tell, they made a decision based on conscience.”
Reprinted from “The Hill” The Newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress (http://www.thehill.com).