The Hispanic and black caucuses in Congress are concerned about a perceived growing lack of interest in the midterm elections within their communities, a problem they say could complicate Democrats’ hopes of maintaining control of the Senate.
The White House has not offered either caucus direct assistance in bringing black and Hispanic voters out to the polls in November, even though those groups were crucial to President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said the White House has made engaging with Latino voters more difficult by delaying executive action on immigration until after the election.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a vocal supporter of immigration reform, told the House, “It makes the job harder for me to generate enthusiasm among Americans to vote at all, let alone enthusiasm for voting for Democrats when there are members of my own party asking the president to hold his pen and his phone in abeyance until after voters vote.”
Members of the caucus conveyed their annoyance to the White House at a meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday. According to a Hill staffer who is familiar with the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity, the lawmakers told senior White House staff members that the delay has made it harder to register, motivate and mobilize Latino voters in contests nationwide.
The White House has said executive action was delayed because of pressure from Senate Democrats in competitive races who were concerned that Republicans would use executive action by the president against them.
The caucus also pushed for a commitment from the White House to “go bigger” with executive action the caucus hopes will be announced before Thanksgiving. Among other actions, the president is considering deferring the deportations of millions of illegal immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens and who have lived in the country for many years.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus met Tuesday to discuss its next steps.
In past midterm elections, there has been a sharp drop in voter turnout among blacks and Hispanics from presidential-election years. The black turnout in the 2010 midterms was 44 percent, down 21 percentage points from the 2008 presidential election. Hispanic turnout was even lower: 31 percent cast ballots in 2010, down 19 points from 2008.
Grass-roots activists are working independently of the administration to encourage a high Hispanic turnout. On Monday, Voto Latino and Mi Familia Vota, along with dozens of other Latino organizations and celebrities, began a significant voter-registration push as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. As in previous years, the White House has acknowledged Hispanic Heritage Month with a presidential proclamation, reaffirming what it says is the administration’s intention to push through immigration legislation.
“I continue to call on the Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. “I am determined to address our broken immigration system through executive action in a way that is sustainable and effective, and within the confines of the law.”
Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, said that the group welcomes support from Democrats and Republicans but that its voter drive is independent.
“We are not recruiting voters for any political party. We are recruiting voters to strengthen the Latino political power that we have in this country,” he said.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is concerned for different reasons. Following the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in August, some thought there was an opportunity to engage black voters before the midterm elections.
“Ferguson has made it crystal clear to the African American community and others that we’ve got to go to the polls,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told the New York Times. The congressman is leading efforts to mobilize black voters in competitive Senate races, including in Arkansas and Louisiana, where Obama is particularly unpopular and the Republican challenge is strong.
But post-Ferguson, the White House has not reached out to the CBC about voter engagement. An official close to the group has described the unrest in Ferguson as a “reflective moment of the critical need to get the vote out” although not necessarily a “tipping point.”
Caucus Chair Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) said in an interview that she has spoken to the White House about ensuring that African Americans vote in November.
“We discussed how important this election is, and they see engagement as a crucial issue,” she said. “The White House and the CBC clearly understand these elections are important — we have to hold the Senate and get every single vote out.”
The CBC plans to hold a news conference next week ahead of Freedom Sunday — a celebration of voters’ rights in the United States — to highlight the need for African Americans to vote.
Justin Barasky, the communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the group will be working closely with the CBC on voter engagement. Although the elections are just eight weeks away, Barasky said, the “details are still to be worked out.”
The White House declined to comment on any efforts regarding voter engagement.