Javier Palomarez, the president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses, visited Austin this week. In an interview with the American-Statesman, Palomarez spoke candidly about the chamber’s campaign to make the U.S. Senate vote on a hearing to confirm Roberta Jacobson to the role of ambassador to Mexico, Marco Rubio’s opposition to that nomination, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and the importance of Austin to the future of Latino businesses in America.
Not everything in the wide-ranging interview made it into our newspaper Saturday, but here at Somos Austin, we decided to give you a full transcript of the conversation. For reference, Jacobson was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the role of ambassador to Mexico last year. The career diplomat who speaks fluent Spanish and is an expert in Latin American politics has yet to be confirmed. The United States has not had an ambassador to Mexico, one of its most important allies, since August.
Here, in full, is our conversation with Palomarez:
American-Statesman: I heard that you’ve been speaking with Roberta Jacobson, let’s start off with that because you wrote a pretty strong op-ed in our paper and I wanted to get more of your thoughts. Why is the USHCC pushing so hard? Why do you think this is so important?
Javier Palomarez: First of all, I want to thank the Austin American-Statesman for running the op-ed in the first place because we think it’s important that we call light to this issue.
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce represents 4.1 million Hispanic-owned firms in this country that collectively contribute over $661 billion to the American economy,and as a business association, we recognize clearly the importance of commercial and economic relations that exist between Mexico and the United States. I’ve spoken to the president personally on this issue. The reality of it is… in Mexico we have had a crucially important commercial partner, economic ally as well as a national security ally, I won’t even touch on that. But the reality of it is that Mexico does more business and is a better and stronger commercial and economic partner to the United States, we do more business, we do more trade with Mexico than we do with Great Britain, than we do with Germany, than we do with France, India, Brazil, with Japan and the list goes on. We need the top diplomat in that country. We’ve been waiting for nine months now.
Sadly, there are three members of the Senate that have been blocking her vote, that have refused to vote. Have blocked the vote. And one of those is Marco Rubio. We’re happy that very recently, maybe about two weeks ago, Sen. (Bob) Menendez (of New Jersey) after eight months finally conceded the point and has called for the vote. We’re now looking at Marco Rubio and asking him to do the same thing. The reality of it is… Marco Rubio has missed 129 of the 243 votes that he was called upon since he decided to run for the presidency.
He is no longer running for president. He no longer has an excuse. It’s time to put good policy in front of politics. He needs to get down there and cast his vote and allow this woman to have her day in court. Roberta Jacobson is a life-long diplomat, has a stellar record. She is more than prepared to do this job and the USHCC and all of our constituents (are) firmly behind her.
There have been some amazing members of the Senate on both sides. (Tom) Udall on the Democratic side, Martin Heinrich, Amy Klobuchar that have been very supportive of this effort that I’m trying to lead. On the Republican side you’ve got John Cornyn, you’ve got John McCain, specifically you’ve got Jeff Flake, who’s been a real champion of this and I want to commend those senators for putting politics aside and doing the right thing. America needs to honor the relationship we have with Mexico. This should not be politicized. There is no reason why this woman has been put on hold for almost nine months now. This is an important commercial issue. This is not political, it is not racial, it’s about commerce, it’s about the economy, it’s about the continued well-being of both our economies and we need to get on with the business of getting on with it.
Statesman: I want to ask you specifically about Marco Rubio and politicizing this issue on Jacobson because, as I understand it, he kept putting off meeting with you at USHCC for your presidential chats, and now that he’s not running for it, do you think he’s likely to change his mind on it?
Palomarez: Well, I sure hope so. I can understand that running for the presidency is very, it’s a trying effort. It’s not an endeavor that one takes on lightly and I understand the strains on his calendar, but that’s behind us now. It’s time to get to work, to do what you were hired to do. You’re a senator. Go cast your vote. We’re not asking him to vote for Roberta Jacobson, we’re asking you to remove the hold and get on with the business of voting, and to politicize this, I think, is at best bad for our economy and, frankly, I think puts us at risk of offending a crucial commercial ally that is Mexico, that has been that kind of an ally for almost two centuries now. We should honor that relationship. We need to place the top diplomat on behalf of the United States in Mexico and Roberta Jacobson is that woman.
Statesman: Do you think that was a political move by Marco Rubio?
Palomarez:: Clearly. Marco Rubio I think has politicized this thing. I think this has more to do with what the president decided to do to normalize relationships with Cuba. He is, I think utilizing that as a (inaudible)… and regardless of what he said, listen if you don’t think the woman’s prepared, then vote and vote against her, it’s just that simple. But vote. You’ve missed 129 of the 243 votes you were called upon, you have the worst track record of any senator in America. It’s time to get to work, Marco. This is serious and we’ve been asking.
Statesman: If you have nothing else to add on that one….
Palomarez: We better stop (laughter)… Ya me enoje (I’m upset now) (laughter).
Statesman: I want to ask you about the presidential chats that you have had with candidates. As I understand it, you’ve met, I think with all of them, the ones that are in there, except Donald Trump, who very publicly pulled out of a conversation with you. Has there been any talk of bringing him back in for one of those chats.
Palomarez: Yeah, we continue a dialogue with Donald Trump’s campaign. You’re right. We met with Ted Cruz, with Bernie Sanders, with Martin O’Malley, with John Kasich, with Jeb Bush, with Hillary Clinton. Marco agreed when he and I spoke personally he thought it was a great idea, I did too, and unfortunately, calendars being what they are and schedules being what they are, and again, when you’re running to be the president of the United States it’s a trying endeavor and so we were never able to make that happen.
And of course, famously, Donald Trump 48 hours or so before the actual date of the Q&A backed out, but the door is open. We are not a partisan organization, we’re not even a political organization, we just believe that anybody who’s running for the presidency of the United States should avail themselves of the opportunity to sit in front of our constituency, again that represents 4.1 million-owned firms, $661 billion in economic contribution and represents this amazingly rapidly growing community called the Hispanic community. Every 30 seconds a Latino turns age 18 in this country and becomes an eligible voter. That’s 60,000 brand new votes every single month and that’ll be the case in the next 21 years in a row. So, if you’re running for an elected office, whether that’s dog catcher or president of the United States, you’d do well to avail yourself of an opportunity to come and state your case in the presence of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and talk to our constituency of Hispanic business owners.
Statesman: Do you think his comments that he has made, some of which are racial or anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican, do you think those statements hurt him with the 4.1 million firms that make up your constituency?
Palomarez: Clearly it has hurt him with the Hispanic community. Clearly it has hurt him with Americans. This is beyond being a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue… and in my opinion someone running for the American presidency should be an individual who tries to convene and coalesce and bring people together and heal the nation, not be divisive and speak from a position of bigotry and hatred and fear-mongering. I don’t want to speak for Donald Trump, he needs to state his own case, but certainly, the reaction that I’m seeing and the language and the rhetoric that he’s used, to me really has put him in a place where he’s got a lot of making up to do, not only with the Hispanic community, with common good-hearted, loyal Americans. I think the entirety of the Hispanic community and a good portion of the rest of America is very disappointed and appalled at some of the language coming out of that campaign.
Statesman: Do you think he’s scared of some of the questions you might ask? It’s not an easy conversation. I saw the one where you were speaking with Bernie Sanders and he said something like “your people” and you sort of corrected him. Do you think he’s scared of the questions you might ask?
Palomarez: I think he’s a little bit worried about the kind of questions he’s going to have to deal with. Certainly when they pulled out they wanted some concessions that we’re not willing to make. I have to say that in his private conversations with me he has been a gentleman. And I can’t speak for him. I can tell you that of all of the candidates, he’s the one who didn’t come.
Statesman: And famously, you said after he pulled out that there’s no way he wins the White House.
Palomarez: No. No.
Statesman: I saw that in a Fox News Latino article.
Palomarez: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s not going to happen.
Statesman: Do you still believe that even as far along as we are right now?
Palomarez: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it plays well in certain pockets. It plays well in certain arenas. The polls look good. But even then, he was making an argument in Nevada that quote-unquote “the Hispanics love me. I won the Hispanic vote in Nevada, I had 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.” There again, once you dig below the surface, that poll was an entrance poll, it polled 1,573 people that were Republican. Of those 1,573, 8 percent of them were Hispanic, so that’s (125), and 44 percent of those (125) voted for Donald Trump. So in essence, he got 55 votes.
(Editor’s note: Palomarez was speaking of the top of his head, so we had to double check the numbers after the interview and changed it accordingly in this transcript. For a similar breakdown of those numbers, click on this Somos Austin post from February, Trump’s numbers with Latinos in Nevada.)
From that, he extrapolated the “Hispanics love me, I got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.” That’s absolutely inaccurate and that’s classic Donald Trump. Once you dig even one layer below the verbiage and the rhetoric and you start to look at the facts, you know, it all falls apart. But it’s going to be fun to see. I’m waiting for the general election for when the Hispanic community coalesces.
If anything, Donald Trump has done a great service to the Hispanic community in that I have never seen the Hispanic community so engaged, I’ve never seen it so coalesced around an issue. It’s less about who they’re voting for than who they’re voting against, and they are 100 percent concrete and coalesced around this notion of voting against Donald Trump. Again, we don’t pick sides. We are an organization that is about business, we are about commerce. We’re not s political organization and we’re not a partisan organization, but my read of the tea leaves and what I’m hearing from other Hispanics and other Hispanic leaders in the nation, that’s kind of where that sentiment that I’m sharing with you now is coming from. The door remains open to Donald Trump to come to our organization and be treated as fairly as everyone else was, but with no preferential treatment either. We will not pull any punches, but we’re not looking to debate him, we’re simply giving him an opportunity to state his case in front of our community and the conversation continues, it’s been very civil and we’ll see where it goes from there.
Statesman: Let’s talk about the importance of Austin to USHCC. You’ve got a strong chapter here, obviously.
Palomarez: We have an amazing leader here. Mark Madrid who runs the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has really hit the market strong. You see that crowd out there, that’s indicative of the excitement around our organization and what we continue to do. You know, we advocate on behalf of 4.1 million business owners who happen to be of Hispanic descent, but we never forget that we’re first and foremost American business owners. Every tax bill we pay, every job we create, every product we manufacture, every service we provide goes to benefit the American economy. And in that context, we believe that our business group of American business owners is important to the continued growth of any city in America, but certainly the continued growth of Austin.
I believe by the year 2020, Austin is projected to have something like 52,000 Hispanic-owned firms here, driving something like $12.8 billion of economic contributions. That’s significant and I think that the entrepreneurial spirit, the DNA, the ethos of Austin is perfect not only for a Hispanic entrepreneur but for any entrepreneur and certainly to include Hispanic entrepreneurs. This is a city that welcomes diversity of thought, that embraces innovation and creativity, and those are some of the basic elements that you need when you’re building your own enterprise, your own business and certainly we’re looking to do everything we can to spur the growth of Hispanic-owned businesses in this city. I just met with the mayor. I think Mayor Adler is the right man for the job, he recognizes the potential in the Hispanic market and certainly the Hispanic entrepreneurial and business community, and so we’re thrilled to be here to celebrate the continued growth of our organization, the continued growth of our Hispanic-owned businesses in this country, which by the way, are growing at a rate of 3-to-1 when compared to the general market. So this is an asset to the American people, to the American society that can be harnessed, and if there’s a city that I think can illustrate how to do it best, it certainly is Austin, Texas.
Statesman: Final thing, going back to Jacobson, do you think the vote for her appointment is going to come soon?
Palomarez: We’re very hopeful. I think if Marco Rubio will do as Sen. Menendez did, if he will put politics aside, if he’ll put policy ahead of politics, and at least go do his job and vote, I think that they’ll be calling for a vote soon and we remain hopeful. We want to work with anybody who sees this issue as we see it: as an important commercial and economic issue that is critically important to the well-being of the relationship between these two commercial allies. And so we’re hopeful that we’ll be seeing a vote here very soon.
Statesman: So it doesn’t sound like you think the presidential election weighs in on this anymore.
Palomarez: I can’t imagine that it would. It’s time for Marco to get back to work. Right now, missing 53 percent of your votes, having the worst voting record in the Senate, missing 129 of the 243 votes that you were hired to vote upon. That’s inconceivable, it’s not acceptable and I think the excuse of saying I’m running for the presidency, I’m busy campaigning, that’s gone and it’s time to get back to work. We’re hopeful he’ll do the right thing.