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Nation’s first Latina senator: GOP congressman’s claims of Mexican election influence are ‘immature’

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) participates in a reenacted swearing-in with Vice President Biden in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

The nation’s first Latina senator calls a GOP congressman’s claims of Mexican influence on the U.S. elections “pathetic” and “immature.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is of Mexican descent and took office last week, dismissed Rep. Michael K. Conaway’s comparison of Mexican entertainers who campaigned for Democratic candidates as “foreign influence,” similar to the email hacking that intelligence agencies say was guided by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview this week with the Dallas Morning News, Conaway (R-Tex.) noted that then-Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and state Democrats brought Mexican television and music stars to the state to help build support for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Cortez Masto’s Senate bid.

“Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don’t hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that,” Conaway told the newspaper.

When asked whether he considered appearances by the Mexican entertainers on par with Russian cyberattacks, Conaway said: “Sure it is, it’s foreign influence. If we’re worried about foreign influence, let’s have the whole story.”

During the campaign, Los Tigres del Norte, a band of Mexican singers who immigrated to the United States and became citizens, as well as Angélica María, an American-born Mexican actress, and Vicente Fernandez, a revered Mexican “ranchero” singer, made appearances with Democratic candidates. Fernandez, who produced a special song on Clinton’s behalf, appeared at a rally with Clinton on the night of the final presidential debate, which was held in Las Vegas. Cortez Masto was there that night and met Fernandez backstage, aides said.

On Thursday night, the senator shot back at Conaway.

“There is literally no basis for any comparison between Latino entertainers hitting the campaign trail in Nevada and Vladimir Putin directing cyberwarfare to undermine American democracy,” she said in a statement. “Congressman Conaway’s offensive and immature comments are an insult to so many people in Nevada and across the country who value their Mexican heritage and culture. This is a pathetic attempt to try to diminish the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to boost Donald Trump. Congressman Conaway’s comments are unacceptable.”

Conaway is also chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He was among several Republicans to interview with Donald Trump to serve as his first agriculture secretary, but he withdrew from consideration.

A spokeswoman for Conaway didn’t immediately return requests for comment.