A few months after taking office, President Biden invited a group of senior Latino leaders to the White House. As they sat around the table, the boss was surprisingly serious. He went so far as to admit, as recounted by two people familiar with the conversation, that the five decades he spent in politics have given him more knowledge of the African American community and their underlying issues than of Latinos and their concerns.
Nearly a year and a half later, Biden and Democrats have made a number of political promises of great importance to Latinos. But some Latino activists fear that voters are not aware of all that has been accomplished, and others fear that the narrow perspective that Biden has privately acknowledged has limited Latino representation in his administration.
“I think there is a blind spot in the White House and in the Oval Office,” said Thomas Sainz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who noted the lack of Latino appointees to key positions across the executive branch. “The president himself clearly does not understand the Latin community.”
With Hispanic Heritage Month kicking off and the midterm elections seven weeks away, Biden and his aides have launched a robust outreach effort aimed at ensuring that the critical voting bloc recognizes the Democrats’ sum of achievements.
Last Thursday, the department’s Spanish media director halted the daily press conference in Spanish. That evening, Biden spoke at the annual dinner of the Congress’ Hispanic Caucasus Institute in Washington.
On Friday, the main outside group supporting Biden’s agenda, Build Back Together, launched a six-figure ad campaign targeting Latinos on three battlefields states.
Several activists said the administration’s recent efforts to align Latinos could have begun sooner.
“Failure to send messages or intentionally communicate with Latino voters can significantly affect the outcome of this midterm election,” said Janet Morgoya, president of UnidosUS, a Hispanic advocacy organization based in Washington. “We are not being ignored. I just don’t think they have improved the Latin vote the way they could.”
Latino voters strongly support Democrats’ policy priorities: allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices (91%), canceling student debt (74%) and protecting abortion rights (77%), according to a weekly tracking poll by the National Assn. of elected and appointed Latin officials.
But Biden’s approval rating with Latinos is only 58%, a number that may be higher with stronger direct contact with Latino voters. More than half of Latinos surveyed – 51% – said they had not yet been contacted by any political party, campaign or other organization.
Sending $1,400 pandemic relief checks to working families, canceling up to $20,000 in student loan debt, and enacting the first gun safety reforms in 30 years after the Ovaldi, Texas mass shooting, this year are “successes,” Chuck Rocha said. overwhelming politics. Democratic counselor and advisor on Latin communication to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The problem is that Latino voters don’t know anything about it. You don’t see ads talking about the string of successes this White House has had for the Latino community.”
If Latinos don’t know about Biden’s policy agenda, it’s not necessarily because of the Democrats’ lack of trying. Mayra Macias, chief strategy officer at Build Back Together, said the group has spent more than $35 million on ads targeting Latinos since the organization launched last year.
“We’ve been doing paid advertising with the Latino community since day one,” she said in an interview. “Now, there are more gains for sale.”
Many of those gains — the Inflation Reduction Act, which expands access to health care and lowers the cost of prescription drugs, and Biden’s student loan debt relief — were enacted in August. “We need more time to release all this information,” Macias said. “But we have this amazing opportunity with all the legislation that has been passed recently.”
Recent events have also expanded Latino support for some Democrats’ priorities.
The Ovaldi shooting incident in May, when 19 students and two teachers were killed when a gunman armed with an assault rifle stormed their classroom, galvanized more Latinos about gun safety. The Supreme Court’s repeal of federal abortion protections in June has energized many Latinos about child-choice protection.
at the National Assn last week. Among the elected and appointed Hispanic officials tracking the poll, abortion rights were third for 28% of respondents — a massive jump from 2018, when only 4% mentioned it as such. The same survey showed that 77% of Latinos now support a ban on assault weapons.
There was only one issue of higher priority for Latinos: the rising cost of living and inflation, which 48% of respondents cited as among the top three concerns. Although gas prices have fallen in recent months after the sharp rise that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Democrats know that pocket issues remain a potential liability for them.
“The first thing that comes out of people’s mouths when I talk to them in the region is gas prices,” said Representative Tony Cardenas (Democrat of Paquema). “If gas prices weren’t what they are, people would be talking more about what we did.”
In those talks, Cardenas said he looks forward to voters focusing on all the things Democrats have done to help working families, as well as repairing bipartisan infrastructure last year.
Biden has a lot to brag about. But what people don’t realize is that more than 50% of construction workers are Hispanic. “This infrastructure bill is a huge boost for millions of families in Latin America.”
Despite all that Biden has accomplished in two years, many Latino activists believe the administration missed opportunities to bolster support and halt the slow but significant rise in Latino support for Republicans.
According to the tracking poll, more than 50% of Democrats favor a general, but 35% of Latinos favor a Republican candidate, a marked increase from the 2018 midterm elections, when that number was at 22%. A Siena College/New York Times poll this week mirrored those findings, detailing how the Republican Party has made its way with Latinos, particularly on economic issues and in the South.
“We’ve been in trouble with Latinos for a long time. Support has gone down, it’s gone down, it’s gone down,” said Joshua Olipari, a Latino-focused Democratic pollster. “Biden is not to blame but it’s up to him to stop the bleeding.”
Olipari was not alone in introducing marijuana legalization as a way to bolster support in Latino communities, where individuals are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses. But the most common area of frustration among Latino activists and political activists has been the small number of Latinos appointed to positions in the White House and across the executive and judicial branches.
Although Biden has appointed four historic Latinos to his cabinet, no Latinas have been appointed as assistant attorney generals in the Department of Justice, no Latino has been appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that addresses workplace discrimination, and there is no Latino leadership in the occupational safety and health department.
“The appointments send a message,” said Sainz of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a former adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villarrigosa. This goes far beyond the idea of progress. We’ve already seen some regression compared to the Obama administration.”
Sainz and his organization called on Biden to nominate more Latinos to the federal bench.
The highest-ranking Latino working in the West Wing is Julie Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. In June, she was promoted to the title of Assistant to the President, in part in response to pressure from frustrated outside groups because Biden did not have any Latinos in the role.
In an interview, she retracted criticism that Latinos are underrepresented in management. “The representation is broader and deeper than what I’ve seen in my experience in government,” Rodriguez said, adding that Biden’s directive to prioritize diversity is not just about meeting a stake with employees. “No matter who you are, you have a clear mandate from the president to ensure equality across agencies and in our policies.”
After proposing an immigration reform bill on his first day in office, a symbolic fulfillment of a campaign promise, Biden steered his legislative agenda in other directions. Even as immigrants swept across the southern border, prompting daily criticism from Republicans, the White House was reluctant to get involved, determined to focus elsewhere.
“Biden personally promised me he would get it done in the first 100 days,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, CEO of Mi Familia Vota. “But it is the same story over and over again. And that is unacceptable.”
But whatever frustrations there are, they will be weighed against an alternative Republican Party that is increasingly dominated by xenophobia and demagogy. As Democrats begin their latest campaign in letters in the run-up to the November 8 election, they present their own achievements in contrast to Republicans, portraying the Republican Party as extremist and framing the election as a choice between two parties and visions, not a referendum on Biden and Democrats in Congress.
Last week’s controversial gambit by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican with clear aspirations to challenge Biden in 2024, presented Democrats with an opportunity. Intent on forcing Democrats to account for the impact of rampant immigration, DeSantis used taxpayer dollars to move Venezuelan asylum seekers to liberal enclaves like Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, D.C., where dozens of immigrants were deposited Thursday outside the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We as a department continue to provide assistance to Latino families,” said Rodriguez, assistant to the president. “And what we’re seeing in terms of the political kind of scams that are coming in from people on the other side right now, using taxpayer money to exploit immigrants fleeing communism—the contradiction couldn’t be clearer in terms of who is fighting for society and who has society’s best interest in mind. “.