The room was more than packed for the National Leadership Luncheon and there were many standing on the sides and in the back of the room. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez was the first one I heard and he had a few observations and asides:
- The first Latino to fall in the Iraq War was an undocumented immigrant.
- 17 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2008 general election.
- Latinos face the highest rate of unemployment of any group in America.
- 45 million are without health insurance--which includes many Latino families.
- America needs to move forward on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform."
- There are more tortillas and salsa sold in America than white bread and ketchup.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada), spoke about the importance of family with the Hispanic community and his personal and professional relationship with NALEO founder and the first Latino elected to the Los Angeles City Council, the late Ed Roybal. Reid, a subdued but deliberate speaker, received his biggest applause line when he called the Iraq War the "worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our country."
One of the real standout NALEO stars is Assistant to the Speaker of the House, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) who touched upon several issues--some light- and some heavy-hearted:
- Spoke about Speaker Pelosi's leadership in passing the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (which deals with Medicare reimbursement cuts to physicians set to take affect on Monday and makes assistance available to the most vulnerable members of society [i.e. seniors] who need medical care but cannot afford it.
- Shared a Texas maxim on speechifying: "A speech is like a Texas Longhorn: a point here and a point there--with a lot of bull in between."
U.S. Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), suffered from laryngitis but gave a raspy but heartfelt speech on her connection to Ed Roybal and how "Latino voters will decide who will be the next President of the United States of America." Like Reid, she spoke emphatically about electing Obama to the White House and the need to end the war in Iraq and "bring the troops home." Speaker Pelosi also spoke about legislation--authored by Rep. Becerra--and signed into law by President Bush last month that will study the potential creation of a "National Museum of the American Latino."
NALEO and Bronx Borough President, Adolfo Carrión, gave a rousing introduction of former First Lady and presidential aspirant, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who closed the luncheon with thoughtful and gracious remarks. Amidst calls of "We love you, Hillary!" and the longest standing applause for any of the speakers, Clinton gave a passionate call to Democratic action and the need for change in Washington. Waxing nostalgic on her recent run for office and standing up for "all who felt invisible in our country," she gave a special shout out to her supporters in the Puerto Rican primary ("a 600 car caravan with extraordinary energy and pulsating music that traveled for 7 hours throughout the island").
Senator Clinton also spoke in glowing terms of her event with Senator Obama tomorrow in Unity, New Hampshire: "We will be making the case for a Democratic victory in November. I know that this was a hard fought primary campaign and I am very grateful for the passion and determination of everyone that supported me. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] But every issue you care about personally, every issue your constituents care about, every issue that NALEO is fighting for, is really at risk. We cannot afford four more years of the same. It won't be good for any of us. And therefore we have to be determined to chart a new course and we cannot do that without electing Senator Obama our president. So that is what I'm going to be working for; that is what I'm going to be fighting for."
More to report as things unfold; Senators Obama and McCain will be speaking on Saturday.