House Democratic leaders are expanding the roster for the chamber’s coveted tax-writing panel after outcry from lawmakers about the lack of Hispanic representation on the committee.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a second-term Democrat from California, was tapped to join the ranks of the Ways and Means Committee on Monday night, nearly a week after leadership announced the Democratic slate for the panel.
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The move comes after multiple Democrats voiced alarm about the lack of Latinos on Ways and Means, one of the most sought-after committees in the House. Without the addition of Gomez, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) would have been the only Hispanic lawmaker on the committee out of two dozen Democrats.
“In terms of the increased diversity of the incoming class, we should have more Latinos on Ways and Means,” Sánchez told POLITICO.
“Adding Jimmy will be a good first step, but clearly we need to do more.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, with 38 members this Congress, is the biggest it has ever been since the group’s founding four decades ago and yet would have only one lawmaker on the tax panel.
Sánchez was the only Hispanic Democrat on Ways and Means the past two years, joined by Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, a centrist Republican who lost his reelection bid in November.
She first raised concerns about the issue last week during a meeting of the Steering and Policy Committee, the panel that doles out Democratic committee assignments. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed with Sánchez during the meeting, according to multiple sources who attended, but no action was taken until Monday.
A senior Democratic aide disputed that the Gomez addition was motivated by an effort to appease Hispanic Democrats, instead arguing that the push was spurred by a desire from Republicans to increase committee membership on their side. If Democrats agreed to let Republicans add a member, they also had to add someone to their roster, the aide said.
“That it addresses an issue of concern is a bonus,” the aide said.
But even the move to add Gomez, who came to Congress in 2017 following a special election to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra — now California’s attorney general — was complicated. Gomez was first approached to join Ways and Means several weeks ago but initially turned it down, according to several sources.
Then, last week, Gomez changed his mind. Rep. Juan Vargas, another California Democrat, also expressed interest in the panel. But it was too late. Senior Democrats had already moved on and pursued other lawmakers interested in joining the committee.
The addition of Gomez also satisfies what several members said was another oversight — not enough representation from the Southern California region.
“Our region added six new members and we’re the largest region — we have 29 members — and yet we only have two members that serve on Ways and Means,” Sánchez said, referring to herself and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). “So there should at least be one more seat there if not two.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a Hispanic Caucus member who isn’t on Ways and Means but represents the same region, said he also raised issues about the committee’s roster during the meeting last week.
“Both from a diversity perspective as well as a regional perspective,” Aguilar said Monday about why he voiced concerns. “I think this is a positive step to add diversity to the Ways and Means Committee.”
Tax lobbyists have been puzzled by how long it’s been taking to finalize the Ways and Means roster.
Democrats originally added 10 new members to the panel last week, and K Street had expected Republicans to not be far behind — only for nothing to happen amid the negotiations over the panel’s ratio.
Despite their heavy losses in November, Republicans have long been expected to add at least a couple members to the committee after losing half their members from the start of the previous Congress.
The committee is now projected to have 42 members this year — 25 Democrats, 17 Republicans — the highest number in at least a couple of decades.