It was billed as a “listening session,” a chance for Latino leaders from across the country to sit down with members of president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and talk about the issues important to them and to their constituents.
The invitation alone was notable, given the notoriously rocky relationship Trump has had with Latinos since the start of his campaign. Leaders of some of the largest Latino civil rights organizations have tried without success for more than a year to gain an audience with Trump or his team.
They finally got their wish on Tuesday. It was a breakthrough, but not everyone experienced it the same way.
According to some of those in attendance, there were more than 50 people in the room. A few were leaders of the country’s largest progressive advocacy groups like the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. Many more represented conservative, evangelical, or pro-business organizations – groups like the LIBRE Initiative, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and regional Latino chambers of commerce.
“The listening session with Hispanic organizations was extremely well-attended and consisted of a wide ranging, frank discussion on areas of both agreement and concerns,” a Trump transition official said in an email to NPR. “This is the beginning of a conversation that will continue throughout the Trump administration. The Hispanic community will play a central role in our engagement going forward.”
But a big question for some in the room was this: Which Hispanic community?
Some of the attendees expressed concerns that the group convened by Trump’s team did not accurately reflect the nation’s broader Latino population or its priorities. They spoke with NPR on the condition that they not be named, given that it was an off-the-record gathering.
“Eighty percent of Latinos voted against Trump, so they probably didn’t share the same conservative leanings that these people around the table did,” a self-described progressive said, citing data from the polling firm Latino Decisions. “I think that when you put a focus on conservative organizations, you’re going to get the perspective of the conservative Latino community. I think they got that pretty good, but this was not a representative meeting of the larger Latino population.”
One progressive leader, attendees said, invited Trump’s team to come to a followup meeting to discuss what he called the “real policy priorities of Latino communities.”
According to several people who were in the room, the meeting played out this way:
Each person got roughly two minutes to talk about his or her organization’s priorities. Conservative leaders offered a range of views, with some expressing support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, for de-funding Planned Parenthood, and opposition to raising the federal minimum wage.
Some progressive leaders stressed the importance of protecting voting rights and health coverage for the millions of Americans who gained it under the Affordable Care Act. They voiced concerns about some of Trump’s political appointees, among other issues. Among the transition officials running the meeting were Mercedes Schlapp, a Fox News pundit and Trump supporter, Katrina Campins, a former contestant on The Apprentice, and Jennifer Korn of the Republican National Committee.
Laura Murillo, president of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that the room “did lean heavier on the conservative side,” but she thought the meeting represented a good sampling of Latino views.
“That’s the Hispanic community,” she said. “We all differ. There’s not one organization, Hispanic or not, that represents all the views of this country. That was the important part of this meeting, that in fact, even among the Hispanic community, we have conservatives, moderates and independents.”
There were areas where most of the leaders agreed, sources said. There was general consensus among attendees that Trump should protect the hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants who President Barack Obama has shielded from deportation through DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Leaders at the meeting also agreed on the need for broader immigration reforms and on the importance of having Trump nominate a Latino or Latina to his cabinet.
And they universally denounced the rhetoric that Trump directed at Latinos during his campaign, saying that his tone toward them must change, according to several attendees.
“We want to make sure that we are part of this country’s fabric,” Murillo said, “and not just a thread.”