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Hispanic Caucus Opts Against Gonzales Endorsement

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has declined to endorse Alberto Gonzales in his bid to be the first Latino attorney general.

Saying Gonzales, currently White House counsel, refused to meet with members of the largely Democratic organization, CHC Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), CHC Nominations Task Force Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and CHC Civil Rights Task Force Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) wrote to Senate Republican and Democratic leaders announcing their decision Wednesday.

“Though Mr. Gonzales has been highly touted by the Bush administration as the first Latino nominee for Attorney General and while much has been said about the historic nature of his nomination, Mr. Gonzales’ nomination is rendered meaningless for the Hispanic community when he declines to meet with the group of Hispanic Members of Congress who have worked for so many years to open the doors of opportunity for all Hispanics,” Rep. Gonzalez said in a statement.

In their letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Judiciary ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the trio of lawmakers said Gonzales’ snubbing of the CHC was not the only reason they opted not to endorse him.

“Let us be clear, our concern is not about whether the CHC is granted a meeting; it is about Mr. Gonzales’ unwillingness to discuss important issues facing the Latino community,” they wrote. “With so little time left before a Senate vote on Mr. Gonzales’ nomination, the Latino community continues to lack clear information about how the nominee, as Attorney General, would influence policies on such important topics as the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, protections for persons with limited English proficiency, due process rights of immigrants, and the role of local police in enforcing federal immigration laws.”

The Senate could vote as early as next week on Gonzales’ nomination.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy shrugged off the loss of a potential endorsement, saying, “Judge Gonzales is well qualified and will make an excellent attorney general. Throughout the confirmation process, he has met with 27 Senators, both Democrats and Republicans. He spent an entire day before the Senate Judiciary Committee and provided them with over 450 written responses.”

Shortly after Gonzales was nominated in late November, the CHC requested a meeting, and Gonzales personally told the caucus chairwoman that he was interested in getting the group’s endorsement, said Napolitano spokeswoman Maria Meier.

After two months of wrangling over schedules, Meier said CHC members had been promised a meeting for the week of President Bush’s inauguration, and many Members had made plans to come back to Washington for the event.

“But then we were informed that not only didn’t he have time [to meet], but he wasn’t interested in the endorsement anymore,” Meier said.

Healy offered no explanation for the about-face, saying only, “Judge Gonzales would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He’s pleased to have the backing of many prominent Hispanic groups.” Gonzales has the support of the National Council of La Raza, the Latino Coalition, the Hispanic National Bar Association, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Meier noted that the CHC has endorsed several of Bush’s nominees, most recently Anna Cabral to be U.S. treasurer, Gaddi Vasquez to be director of the Peace Corps and numerous judicial candidates.

Gonzales is only the second Bush nominee of Hispanic descent to not receive the CHC’s endorsement, according to Adrian Saenz, spokesman for Rep. Gonzalez. On the question of whether controversial nominee Miguel Estrada should be confirmed as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court, the CHC opposed him. Estrada later withdrew his name from consideration after Senate Democrats mounted a months-long filibuster.

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