CHC’s Old Rifts Ring Anew

Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:26pm

Two years after her very public and dramatic departure from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) has yet to rejoin the group, and some say the decision may not be hers.

Sources close to the CHC say members are weighing whether to invite Sanchez back into their fold, citing long-standing, unresolved tensions. The rift appears to exist despite the fact that it was Sanchez who abandoned the group in 2007 after a highly publicized fight with then-Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.). Sanchez accused Baca of calling her a “whore” during a meeting, which Baca adamantly denied.

Soon after Sanchez’s departure from the CHC, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), Loretta’s sister, also left, citing problems with the leadership. While some defended the move in the face of what they viewed as sexism and poor leadership, others privately turned their complaints toward Loretta, believing she mishandled her spat with Baca by making it so public.

Some things have changed since then, namely that the CHC now has a larger membership, a Democratic president and a female leader in Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.). Also, the younger Sánchez sister has since rejoined the group.

According to one source familiar with CHC politics, a lot of members still “blame Loretta” for bringing embarrassment to the caucus and are angry at her for deciding to “really go out there and beat the [expletive] out of us” by venting her frustrations to the press.

Namely, this source said, Sanchez made comments about how she couldn’t belong to the CHC because it was run by “a lot of sexist, macho men,” a move that offended several members who felt Sanchez and Baca should have settled their score in private.

Those tensions were complicated last month when the CHC met with President Barack Obama. Off the invite list, according to sources, were the Sanchez sisters.

“They were like, ‘We’re part of the caucus.’ And members were like, ‘No you’re not. You don’t get to pick and choose,’” said the source. And to Loretta Sanchez, “a lot of members were like, ‘You embarrassed us. You went out there and did what you did in the public. You had your fun and now you want to come back? You need to be invited back.”

Linda Sánchez herself has suggested she left the caucus not because of her sister’s fight with Baca but because of frustrations that there weren’t enough opportunities for newer members to serve in CHC leadership posts.

“With Nydia Velázquez as the new chair has come much-needed structural changes that will allow all members of the caucus to participate in a more meaningful way,” Linda Sánchez said Monday.

An aide familiar with caucus dynamics said CHC members were thought to be discussing letting Loretta Sanchez back into the caucus only under certain conditions aimed at making her “tone things down a bit,” but it was unclear if any were ultimately presented to her.

“Loretta has … a run-of-the-mouth problem. She doesn’t have any sort of filter,” the aide said.

Staying focused on the caucus’ ambitious agenda, Velázquez recently refused to comment on tensions within the group. “I’m not going to spend one minute on dynamics in the caucus,” she said. “I feel good. A lot of things are coming together.”

The new CHC chairwoman acknowledged that she has reached out to Sanchez, with whom she has “good relations,” and discussed her possible return to the caucus. But Velázquez conceded that “I think she needs some more time.”

For her part, Sanchez said she “would consider” returning to the bloc if its leaders could prove it would run more effectively. She said she approves of the group’s new chairwoman, “Nydia, who I love.”

And Sanchez dismissed the idea that she doesn’t want to return to the CHC because of old tensions with Baca: “I work with him all the time.”

Suggesting that CHC leaders are trying to lure her back, Sanchez said they have sent her documents outlining changes to caucus bylaws and task forces that would meet her liking and asked her to attend a few meetings to “see what I think.”

But those CHC papers are still “sitting on my desk,” Sanchez said, because she hasn’t had time to review them. “I’ve just been too busy, quite frankly. … There’s a lot of groups I belong to,” she said.