Dems Plot State-Level Strategy to Pressure GOP Governors on Refugees

Rep. Joaquin Castro met with left-wing state advocacy group to enlist Dem mayors

Joaquin Castro
Joaquin Castro / AP
November 18, 2015

A prominent Democratic lawmaker met with the head of a progressive state-level advocacy group on Tuesday to plot ways to undermine Republican governors who have resisted federal efforts to relocate Syrian refugees to their states, according to sources present at the meeting.

In a conversation at a Capitol Hill coffee shop on Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) and Nick Rathod, head of the State Innovation Exchange, discussed the need to enlist Democratic mayors to put political pressure on those governors.

"The mayor of Boston, the mayor of Houston, those guys could be fighting against their governors," said Castro. "You can push the states in a more progressive direction from the cities."

Castro also cited Newark, "another place where you can score some points against a prominent Republican governor." Rathod suggested Detroit due to its high numbers of Muslim immigrants. That city’s mayor "should be standing up and sticking it to the Michigan governor," he said.

The conversation was transcribed and relayed to the Washington Free Beacon by an individual who overheard the meeting. Another source who was also present for the conversation confirmed the account. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

Their meeting came as congressional Republicans readied legislation to "pause" the administration’s plans to relocate 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, an idea also floated by Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate’s third ranking Democrat.

At least 31 governors have said they will resist efforts to relocate Syrian refugees. Most are Republicans, but the list includes New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan. Rathod and Castro discussed efforts to pressure them to drop that resistance.

"I’d love to be strategizing and organizing with you guys" on the refugee issue, Castro told Rathod, a former Obama White House official who took the helm at the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) last year.

The group was designed to be a counterweight to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that crafts model legislation with the assistance of state legislators, private companies, and other stakeholders.

"Progressives are looking around to figure out where to go to push back, and there has not been a vehicle to do that at the state level—it’s the biggest missing piece in the progressive infrastructure," Rathod said at the time.

After Castro left, he and two other SiX staffers continued discussing the refugee issue and its potential for dinging Republican officials at the state level.

"You need to get the mayors the talking points, and data research to back it up," Rathod told the staffers.

Some at the meeting expressed concern that the issue could backfire.

"We need to be really careful," one SiX staffer said. "Have we thought how terrorists were able to get through all these refugees?" another asked. "Have we thought through this so we’re not making a bad argument?"

Rathod reassured them.

"I feel pretty comfortable that the refugees aren’t the way a terrorist would get in. It’d be through Canada," he said. But, he added, "It’s always a risk."

Neither Rathod nor Castro’s office returned requests for comment on the meeting, which came as the Democracy Alliance, a left-wing donor club instrumental in SiX’s formation, met in Washington, D.C., for its biennial conference.

SiX is central to the DA’s strategy to retake statehouses in the wake of massive Democratic losses under President Obama. Rathod griped about those losses, and the Democratic Party’s inability to stem them, during his meeting with Castro.

"The DNC doesn’t do anything. It’s all top-down, presidential cycle driven. They don’t do anything to help the cause," he complained. "Even after Presidential Obama took office, we’ve lost 900 seats at the local level. I thought that we had kicked their ass and Republicans were done. It’s been the opposite."

The solution, he said, is to nurture groups such as SiX that incubate Democratic talent at the state and local levels.

"We have some young rising stars on our side, like yourself, but we lack a pipeline," Rathod told Castro. "The right nourishes and builds their young stars. They take amateurs and turn them into heavy hitters."

SiX is "spending a lot of time understanding the needs of state legislators, figuring out how to support their needs, training people when they’re in office, so by time they’re ready to go to the next level, they’re armed with policy and political skills."

That sort of talent recruitment could see a boost under a Republican president, Castro suggested. "I’m supporting Hillary Clinton and all that," he said. "But a silver lining of having a Republican president, it’d be great for the progressive bench. George W. Bush was great for building up our side."

He and Rathod suggested that a Clinton loss is a distinct possibility if the Republican Party nominates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. "Rubio is really scary to me," Rathod said. "Me too," Castro agreed.

Published under: Syria