Jan 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Harris aide hammered by Hispanic caucus

Jamal Simmons is seen speaking at a public event.
Jamal Simmons. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

Senior members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus privately upbraided Vice President Kamala Harris’ new communications director Thursday for comments he made about undocumented migrants — but most appeared willing to accept Jamal Simmons' apology.

Why it matters: Hispanics are a key constituency both for the Democratic Party and Harris herself. Venting their frustrations but then letting Simmons explain himself defuses a potential crisis for an already challenged VP team.

  • Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), the current CHC chair, explained to Simmons why his old tweets — in which, in 2010, he appeared to call for the arrest of an undocumented migrant — were so hurtful to some Hispanics, people familiar with the matter told Axios.
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), dean of the caucus, also had strong words for Simmons. He noted how many undocumented families live in fear of being deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Menendez told Simmons his future actions would now be more important than his current apologies.
  • "Jamal had an open and honest conversation with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where he reiterated his deep regret for his past words and longstanding commitment to immigrant rights," said a White House official.
  • "Members expressed their concerns and willingness to move forward. Jamal is grateful for their generosity," the official said.

Between the lines: Several CHC members decided not to attend the meeting, including Reps. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.), the sources said.

The big picture: Some Hispanic lawmakers are frustrated Harris’ team hasn't hired more Latino staffers.

  • They're also concerned her office hasn't better reached out to a community crucial to the Democrats' prospects in this fall's midterms and the 2024 presidential campaign.
  • Harris aggravated immigrant rights activists and some lawmakers when she told NBC News last summer her message to migrants from Central America was “do not come.”
  • While team Harris wants to interview Hispanic candidates to increase staff diversity, some lawmakers are skeptical she'll do what they think is warranted: bring a seasoned and experience Latino operation into her senior leadership team.
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