Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from California, will assume the highest-level seat ever held by a Latino in the House, the party’s No. 3 seat, with the promise that his party will regain a majority by 2024.
Aguilar was chosen by his colleagues Wednesday to serve in the upcoming Congress as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a position that rose to No. 3 in House leadership from No. 4. Aguilar, of 43 years, he has served as vice chair of the caucus. .
His colleagues chanted, “We want Petey Pie,” a nickname for his grandmother, during the election, according to a source who was in the room during the closed-door leadership election.
Aguilar’s job will be to help guide the now-minority House Democrats as they try to advance their legislative priorities, keeping members united on issues, getting the party’s message across and working to regain a majority by 2024. Messaging is an issue that Democrats were seen to have trouble with in the last election.
“We’re going to do everything we can to stick together, to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Americans, to lower the daily costs at the pump. Those are the things the House Democratic Caucus will advocate for, as well as implement We have already passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill to create good paying jobs in our communities,” he said.
Aguilar said that if they can do that and stay united and focused, “we’re not going to be in the minority for long. The road is in front of us for the majority in 2024.”
He said Democrats need to take that path for the sake of democracy, to fix DACA, a program that allows young people without legal status to stay and work in the US, and to ensure people have health care.
Aguilar, who enters his fifth term in January, acknowledges that his investigative work on the Capitol Hill violence on January 6 could make it difficult to build the kind of relationships across the aisle that were critical to his political rise.
As part of a new generation of leaders, one that is more diverse and younger, Aguilar said he wants a style of government from the past.
“Traditionally, Democrats and Republicans, we can have some policy disagreements. Some of these people don’t want to have disagreements on policy, they want to do everything they can to win and subvert the vote, rerun elections and deny free and fair elections,” Aguilar told NBC News on the eve of the leadership election. . “I want to go back to that time when courtesy was at the forefront.”
Aguilar has the CEO of a credit union where he worked as a young man as a mentor who gave him the push to enter city politics. The CEO was a Republican. A bipartisan Redlands city council selected him to fill a vacant seat, and he was later elected. The council subsequently elected him twice to serve as mayor.
In a 2014 interview with NBC News, he discussed working for then-California Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, in Riverside, when the area was very “red.” Articulating the governor’s position in those circumstances taught him to be a good listener, understand other points of view and find solutions, he said in the interview.
Aguilar stressed in his speech in Wednesday’s leadership election the importance of his No. 3 seat to Latinos, California and his hometown, according to a source in the room during the closed-door election.
“I think it’s important to have a Latino to be in the top three for House leadership. I think the time has come. I think our growing number in the Hispanic Caucus of the Democratic Caucus and we were successful in providing Latino representation in seats in Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon and Las Cruces, New Mexico and Chicago, Illinois and an Afro-Latino in Orlando, Florida,” he said Aguilar on Tuesday night.
“They will tell their own stories… I want to be an ally and I want to speak with them and for our own communities,” said Aguilar, who is Mexican American but whose family has deep roots in the US.
Aguilar was recognized as an up-and-comer soon after arriving in Congress, but his rise through the ranks has largely taken place out of the spotlight. Some have seen it as potentially becoming the first Latino Chamber Spokesperson.
He has built strong relationships with his colleagues during his four years in Congress. He has raised $15.2 million for colleagues and campaigns this election cycle, according to an aide.
“Pete is the kind of guy who has a nose for the grindstone, a very hard worker,” said Larry Gonzalez, a lobbyist for the Raben Group who has worked for decades with Latino lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “I know they say that about a lot of people, but with Pete it’s real. He just kept his head down, built the necessary relationships, and helped candidates across the country.”
Two other Latinos have also served as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., when he was in the House, and Xavier Becerra, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services.
However, the position was not previously one of the top three leadership positions when held.
Aguilar said in a interview 2021 he doesn’t like to lose, whether it’s playing board games or his own children competing for office. His defeat in the 2012 congressional primary taught him about consensus building, he said.
But his grandmother’s advice also shaped him, he said. She always tells her to be careful, that the world can be a terrible place, but that she never forget “who I am and where I come from.”
“That stays with me. I am still a kid from San Bernardino who loved to play baseball growing up and whose parents really worked hard to give us a chance,” he said.
His father worked for 37 years at the Southern California Gas Company, rising from meter reader to service technician and finally district manager, as far as he could go without a college degree. He is now retired.
“They knew that they weren’t necessarily going to go to college, that some goals would never be reached,” he said, “but they believed in that promise, that if they worked hard, some doors might open for us.”