Retiring Rep. Luis Gutierrez has decided against seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and instead will focus his efforts on mobilizing Latino voters in key swing states in the run-up to 2020.
“Now that time has transpired and I have been able to give it some thought, I believe the best use of my time and my energy and my leadership is [to] spend a lot of time in Ohio, Pennsylvania,” Gutierrez said in an interview that will air this weekend on SiriusXM’s “Full Stop with Mark Preston.” “In those two states, particularly, there are communities of Puerto Rican descent that need to get activated.”
Gutierrez’s decision not to seek his party’s presidential nomination will be viewed as a setback by immigration activists, who see the Illinois congressman as one of the most effective spokesmen calling for the US government to grant citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. Yet Gutierrez’s absence from the presidential field may also open up a lane for another prominent Latino candidate to enter what is expected to be a very contentious, crowded and expensive battle for the nomination.
Gutierrez had surprised his colleagues and constituents in November when he announced that he would retire at the close of the 115th Congress. At the same time, he acknowledged that he planned to explore a presidential campaign.
Now, Gutierrez – the only Latino to represent Illinois – is setting his sights on marshaling Latino voters in the country’s heartland, as well as helping Puerto Rico rebuild following Hurricane Maria’s devastating hit to the island last September. While Gutierrez was born and raised in Chicago, his parents are from Puerto Rico and the congressman maintains strong ties to the US territory – and strong opinions about the US government’s response after the hurricane.
In the wide-ranging interview, Gutierrez accused President Donald Trump of being a racist and predicted that Puerto Rico will never be rebuilt as long as Trump is in the White House.
“Look, you can’t rebuild an island, you’re never going to put that island back together again, and have it meet 21st-century standards for the people of Puerto Rico until you have a president that cares, that isn’t going to go down there and throw paper towels, and isn’t going to say, ‘Oh, it isn’t better because they want us to do everything for them,’ ” Gutierrez said.
“In other words, we are just lazy. You need a president that really cares. So, I am going to tell you we are going to fight, and we are going to struggle and Puerto Ricans are going to band together and they are going to make the most of it,” he said. “But I’ve got to tell you, as long as Trump is President of the United States, they are never going to rebuild it.”
While surveying the damage in Puerto Rico last fall, Trump visited with survivors and helped distribute supplies – at one point throwing paper towels into the crowd.
“President Trump is a racist,” Gutierrez said. “You see it.”
The Illinois congressman then referenced the time when Trump insinuated that a judge of Mexican descent had ruled against him in a case because Trump had vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Instead of gearing up for another campaign, Gutierrez is starting to wind down his congressional career, which began after winning in 1992. But as he prepares to head for the door, he offered a key endorsement of the current Democratic leadership – namely Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California – if Republicans lose control of the House majority in November.
“The Democratic leadership that’s in place right now, if I were coming back, I don’t see any of them I wouldn’t be voting for, to be quite honest,” he said. “Lordy, Lord, I have my differences with Nancy Pelosi. Oh, I have huge differences with Nancy Pelosi, but I would probably vote for her for speaker of the House.”
The full interview with Rep. Luis Gutierrez can be heard Saturday at noon ET on “Full Stop with Mark Preston”– SiriusXM, POTUS 124.
CNN’s Caroline Kenny contributed to this report.