Baca ‘open’ to making changes to CHC

Having fended off an attempted coup last week, Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) said yesterday that he has “always been open” to reforms to make the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) more inclusive.

But the conflict-ridden caucus did not discuss a proposal to create a communication and a policy post when CHC lawmakers met Thursday over Chinese food in the basement of the Capitol. While enough lawmakers were present to proceed with caucus business and discuss immigration policy and the appropriations process, some of the most senior members, Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Ed Pastore (D-Ariz.), and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) did not attend.

Baca won a vote of confidence last week following an effort by a faction within the caucus to oust him. Some lawmakers were unhappy with Baca’s management of the CHC’s political action committee, BOLD PAC, and his alleged treatment of women. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) quit the CHC after learning that Baca allegedly called her a “whore.”

Now, no longer fighting for his political life as chairman, Baca seems more relaxed and more open while speaking with reporters after the CHC meeting.

“It’s all over,” Baca said, adding that forthcoming proposals would be “constructive recommendations…there will be no takeovers, no coups. Nothing like that.”

Baca said that he is willing to have a discussion if the proposed changes are “healthy and will help when the [caucus] grows in the future…we want to recognize expertise and knowledge of our members.”
Baca also said that he would “love to have Sanchez rejoin the CHC.”

Sanchez told reporters yesterday that, “I’ll not rejoin [as long as Baca is chairman] and if I have to wait two years, so be it.”

Despite Baca’s more upbeat demeanor, the recriminations and consequences stemming from the feud show no signs of abating.

“We’re continuing to talk,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) told three reporters while walking at rapid pace from the Capitol to his office in the Longworth Building.

“Ideas about the structure of the caucus are still on the table,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.).
At least one CHC lawmaker lamented that the fracas had drained the caucus’s ability to speak on issues.
“We’ve squandered some time having this internal fight,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “We’ve got to refocus, speak as one voice on immigration policy before we get rolled over or forced to vote on something we cannot accept.”

Although Baca may have stopped the momentum to oust him and he extended an olive branch to his opponents, saying that he was willing to consider “constructive” proposals to change the caucus’s bylaws, which were written more than 30 years ago and designed for a bipartisan caucus, small in number. The CHC now numbers 22 lawmakers, all Democrats.

Many younger lawmakers feel that the bylaws have stymied the caucus’s effectiveness. For example, until Baca created a rapid-response team earlier this year the CHC rules required all members to sign off on every press release. 

To Baca’s allies, the dispute within the CHC has more to do with California politics, which rewards ambition, than with his alleged treatment of women. They maintain the women in the caucus, specifically Sanchez, her sister Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), and Solis, were holding the caucus hostage by threatening to quit.

In addition, the rivalry between Loretta Sanchez, Solis and Baca extends at least back to 2002 when the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee chose Solis to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Baca and Sanchez vied for the CHC’s nomination, and Baca won. But the Steering Committee rejected him and selected Solis.