Five more in CHC may quit over 'whore' insult

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is on the verge of falling apart. At least two more women and three men have threatened to resign if chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) refuses to apologize and make reforms in the wake of allegedly calling Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) a “whore,” say caucus members.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is on the verge of falling apart. At least two more women and three men have threatened to resign if chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) refuses to apologize and make reforms in the wake of allegedly calling Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) a “whore,” say caucus members.

Sanchez has already resigned after accusing Baca of insulting her during a meeting with California state legislators last year. Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) have also threatened to resign if Baca does not redress their grievances, caucus members say. One lawmaker said Baca is also accused of insulting Solis during the same California meeting. 

Baca denies the allegations.

Three male caucus members say that if the women quit, they too will resign to avoid the taint of belonging to a “discriminatory” group, said two lawmakers. These sources did not identify the men thinking of resigning, but they are probably Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who all sided with the Sanchez sisters against Baca last year.

The departure of five members from the caucus would put pressure on others to resign, especially on Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) because of emerging allegations that Baca is insensitive to women.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) is the only woman to take Baca’s side in the dispute, said several lawmakers. The other women have lined up to varying degrees behind Sanchez, they said.

An exodus of five or more members, including half of its women, would be a devastating blow to the 21-member caucus. To avert that catastrophe, the caucus met for three hours in the office of Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) Tuesday night and again yesterday. The Tuesday meeting was the first time Sanchez and Baca have met to discuss their dispute since her resignation last month. One lawmaker present said that “16 or 17” members were there.

The argument remains unresolved but several lawmakers said there were “good discussions.” It will require a lot more talking before the matter is settled, one member said.

The debate has moved beyond what Baca called Sanchez and Solis. Members now want to dilute his power as chairman. Those who want a more even distribution of power argue that it is necessary because Democrats are in power and the caucus could have significant impact on national policy.

Baca is not without defenders. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) has been prominent in holding back the onslaught of criticism, arguing that forcing his resignation or drastically cutting his power could cost Baca his seat. 

Another defender is Napolitano, Baca’s predecessor as chairman.

Napolitano declined to comment on internal caucus politics. Baca and his allies demand that the caucus put personal disputes aside and focus on legislative challenges.

“We got to stay focused on our goals and objectives and not lose sight of the missions and objectives of CHC,” said Baca in an interview. “This about what CHC stands for. This is bigger than one person. There may be differences on either side but as a whole we have to come together and do the things that are right.”

Baca wants the caucus to focus on networking with other Hispanic groups nationwide and building partnerships with corporate America. He also wants to address healthcare, education, and immigration policy.

But other members say that the caucus will move forward only when Baca makes amends. One of the women in the caucus on Tuesday asked on behalf of Sanchez and Solis for Baca to apologize, according to two lawmakers who declined to reveal the identity of the lawmaker making the demand. One lawmaker present said the other women there appeared to support the call for an apology.

“There was a lot of head nodding,” said the lawmaker.

Baca faced a rebellion last year when he headed the caucus’s political action group, BOLDPAC. At the beginning of 2006, six caucus members severed their ties to the committee over allegations that Baca made contributions to his sons without first getting permission from his colleagues. They were Loretta and Linda Sanchez, Solis, Cardoza, Costa, and Grijalva.

Solis aired her grievances against the Hispanic caucus leadership two weeks ago.

“I share Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez’s sentiment about the lack of respect afforded to women members of the Hispanic Caucus. If the Hispanic Caucus is to be truly representative of the Latino community, it must give equal treatment to all its members, regardless of gender or seniority.”

Solis also criticized Baca’s operation of the political action committee.

“I continue to be very concerned about the operation of BOLDPAC, the Caucus’ campaign arm. I withdrew from the PAC last year because it was moving away from its mission of electing Hispanic congressional candidates by allowing contributions to Hispanic Caucus relatives running for local and state office.”

The PAC has been pivotal in the row between Baca, Sanchez and Solis.

Baca had met California state officials to push the candidacies of his sons, who were running for state Assembly and Senate, when he allegedly insulted Sanchez and Solis, said a person familiar with Hispanic caucus affairs. Sanchez and Solis likely came up during the discussion because they opposed Baca’s decision to fund his sons’ candidacies with Hispanic caucus funds.

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