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Rep. Pete Aguilar holds the line

By Patricia Guadalupe

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Members of the 118th Congress are heading this year on the campaign trail with the entire U.S.
House of Representatives and several key Senate seats up for grabs, in addition to the White
House. But this Congress is on track to having one of the least productive sessions ever. In its
first session last year, it passed only 34 bills, the lowest number since the Great Depression, and
only recently was able to pass a budget bill to avert a government shutdown after months of
infighting and delays.

Historically, the House is usually more productive in its second year– but that hasn’t panned out this year. But the media narrative of Congressional dysfunction has largely ignored what individual members are doing, including the record number of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), and the House’s top Latino, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California.

Aguilar became the highest-ranking Latino when he was elected in 2022 by his colleagues as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the party’s #3 position in the House leadership. Previously, he’d been serving as caucus vice chair, the #4 spot. Aguilar’s job is to help with messaging, to take back the House in the upcoming November elections, and in the meantime push the Democrats’ legislative agenda. He also serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Like other members of the CHC, Aguilar is involved in the caucus’ political action committee, BOLD PAC, which recently announced a national, six-figure effort with local organizations in key states such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas on Latino voter turnout. BOLD PAC was founded in 2001 to increase the number of Hispanics in Congress. “Latino voters will be integral to the 2024 elections, deciding whether Democrats are able to defend the White House, Senate, and take back the House. There is so much at stake for our community, and the future of America, highlighting the importance of ensuring that Latinos are mobilized and energized to vote for Democrats in November,” said BOLD PAC chair Rep. Linda Sánchez.

Aguilar gained national prominence after being named to the Congressional group investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection and was the only Latino on that committee. Aguilar called the insurrection “one of the darkest days in our country’s history” and he considered it “an honor” to be appointed to the committee. “President Trump may not have gone to the Capitol, but what he did from the White House cannot be justified,” Aguilar said during one of the committee’s hearings.

Aguilar got his political start in his mid-20s when he became the youngest member of the city council in Redlands, California, about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. He later became mayor before heading to the nation’s capital from a district that is currently about 62% Hispanic.

Aguilar is considered a bit of a calming presence in a Congress filled with turmoil, even when members of his own party have disagreements. Not that long ago, the CHC was embroiled in a controversy surrounding its currently leader, Rep. Nannette Barragán. The CHC’s executive director had left, following an exodus of employees and the caucus was left without a staff for the first time ever. only a month after Barragán had taken over for a two-year term. Caucus members held a virtual meeting and Aguilar was on the call to “help calm tensions,” according to observers.

But Aguilar did cause a bit of a commotion earlier in the year when he called for a fellow
legislator to step down: “Latinos face barriers and discrimination across the board in so many
categories, including in our justice system. This is not that. It would be best if he resigned. It
doesn’t bring me or any of us joy to say that he should resign. But he should for the betterment
of the Democratic Party. For the people of New Jersey. It’s better that he fights this trial outside
of the halls of Congress.”

Aguilar was weighing in on Senator Robert Menéndez of New Jersey who has been
indicted on federal bribery charges. Menéndez vehemently denies any wrongdoing and has even
claimed that he is being persecuted for his ethnicity, an allegation that Aguilar dismisses. “What
we read in the indictment and the charges, we should not conflate the discrimination and the
issues and the barriers that Latinos have in the justice system and across industries,” Aguilar said
at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Ironically, Aguilar has the same leadership position that Menéndez himself held some
two decades ago when he was in the House. Aguilar is the most prominent Latino legislator to
call for the highest-ranking Latino in the Senate to leave office. While some have joined in, most
elected officials and other Latino leaders are staying mum.

Very active on social media, Aguilar recently commented on Wasington’s other sport
besides politics: football. From San Bernardino to the Nation’s Capitol. The @Commanders are
getting a great one in Jayden. #NFLdraft
, Aguilar posted on X about Jayden Daniels, a
quarterback from Aguilar’s district who was selected by the Washington Commanders.

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