Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden loses staffer responsible for Latino outreach

Biden affirms that he prioritizes Latino voters after senior staffer Vanessa Cárdenas resigned last week

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 26, 2019 9:47PM (EST)

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to the audience during a town hall on November 21, 2019 in Greenwood, South Carolina. Polls show Biden with a commanding lead in the early primary state.  (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to the audience during a town hall on November 21, 2019 in Greenwood, South Carolina. Polls show Biden with a commanding lead in the early primary state. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has affirmed that he prioritizes Latino voters after Vanessa Cárdenas — a senior staffer in charge of outreach to Latino, African-American and women’s groups — resigned from the campaign in apparent frustration last week.

Two allies familiar with Cárdenas’ thinking told Politico their friend was concerned that Biden’s campaign was not listening to her in regards to immigration issues. Biden's former boss, President Barack Obama, was decried by activists as the "deporter in chief" during his 2012 re-election bid. Deportations are lower in the Trump administration despite its harsh crackdown on immigration. 

One friend, who admitted to not being authorized to speak on Cárdenas’ behalf, told Politico that “Vanessa kept banging her head against the wall trying to get them to take the community more seriously, and Biden just really won’t change when it comes to the way he talks about immigration. It became too much.”

In response to the report about Cárdenas, Biden told the Associated Press on Monday that he considered Latino voters to be a priority for his campaign. He described his former staffer as “very, very good” said that he could “understand her frustration in terms of the number of days” spent in certain states.

“I’m getting the same thing, and I’m sure every candidate is — no matter what state you’re in — why you’re not spending more time in other states,” he said. “I wish her well. I’m sorry she was frustrated.”

This is not the first time that questions have emerged over Biden’s positions on immigration issues. During a Democratic presidential debate in July, the former vice president aroused controversy when he answered a question on the topic with a response which some activists claimed to have recycled Republican talking points.

“This country can tolerate a heck of a lot more people, and the reason we're the country we are is we've been able to cherry pick from the best of every culture,” Biden said at the time. “Immigrants built this country. That's why we're so special. It took courage. It took resilience. It took absolutely confidence for them to come. And we should be encouraging these people.”

He then added, “And by the way, anybody that crosses the stage . . . with a PhD, you should get a green card for seven years. We should keep them here.”

“It is unacceptable for a candidate vying to be the Democratic nominee for POTUS to use language like that used by VP Biden when talking about immigration during the second debate,” Mayra Macías, executive director of Latino Victory, told Politico in August. “We immediately reached out to the campaign and were told it was being addressed.”

Biden also aroused controversy one month earlier when he declined to speak at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which is the nation’s largest association of Latino officials. Because a number of other Democratic presidential candidates agreed to speak there, the former vice president's absence prompted the CEO of the organization to say that “this is one of the first real national platforms for candidates to speak to Latino voters and its leadership, and to be a no-show is a significant risk.”

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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All Salon Barack Obama Election 2020 Immigration Joe Biden News & Politics Politics Vanessa Cárdenas