Wary Latino Republicans Look to Mike Pence as an Unexpected Ally

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Vice President Mike Pence came before this year’s White House Cinco de Mayo celebration ready to correct an earlier flub. “Buenas tardes,” he said, welcoming the crowd of Latino Republicans, getting his grammar right after earlier greeting a conservative Hispanic business group with the incorrect “buenos tardes.”

And more importantly, Pence came to the crowd with his well-worn story of how his grandfather Richard Michael Cawley immigrated to the United States from Ireland.

It’s the kind of routine people might roll their eyes at, a politician pulling an immigration story out of his pocket just because he’s in front of a bunch of Hispanics. But in a White House that has been criticized for its lack of Hispanic hires and outreach to the community after insults from Donald Trump reigned during the campaign, Pence has quietly used valuable time early in the administration to tell this story and speak directly to American Latinos.

And conservative Latino groups, looking for a sign of cooperation from the White House, are taking notice.

Pence has a history of involvement in Latino issues. Eleven summers ago, Pence, then a congressman, stood sweating in a tomato field among Mexican workers to push for an immigration compromise conservatives could get behind. He didn’t want amnesty — a touchy word even before the Obama immigration wars that were to come — but he proposed a guest worker program that would see immigrants leave the country and come back to work legally. “Why was a congressman from Indiana focused on the border?” reporters asked at the time. Pence was ready with his response: “April 11, 1923,” the date when his grandfather arrived on Ellis Island.

Pence heartened Latino Republicans with his story in May, and by not just saying that an immigration overhaul should get done, but that it would get done.

The vice president has taken a similar message to groups around the world, with limited press attention. He was the keynote speaker in March in Washington for the Latino Coalition, a nonpartisan conservative business group, where he extolled veterans and Latina business owners, he went to Miami in June to tell the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that the administration was with them to “root out crime and corruption” and he introduced Trump during his Cuba policy speech during the same trip. Next month, Pence will visit Panama, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina to meet with government and business leaders to discuss bilateral trade and investment in the region.

While Trump made the high-profile Cuba policy speech in Miami, he has not engaged in meetings with Hispanic groups since the campaign, despite repeated requests from civil rights organizations, business groups and nonpartisan entities.

The under-the-radar dynamic between Pence and Latino organizations reflects a vice president who is comfortable and interested in speaking to Hispanic groups, and Latino Republicans who view him as an ally as they continue to feel their way on Trump, who hurled insults during the campaign at Mexican immigrants and a Mexican-American judge overseeing a Trump University lawsuit.

“I think because of the statements Trump made, there’s always going to be a certain trepidation,” said a source close to the administration. “Pence can come in unsullied, so it’s smart to put him front and center at those events.”

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SOURCE: Buzzfeed News, Adrian Carrasquillo