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Sanchez Continues to Rebuff CHC

Chalk it up to the cost of dues, tensions with other Members or just being too busy, but Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) continues to brush off invitations to rejoin the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Sanchez quit the CHC two years ago following a publicized scuffle with then-Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), who reportedly called her a “whore.” Yet despite the CHC having since restructured its bylaws and named a new chairwoman in Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Calif.), Sanchez is still holding out on rejoining.

“I just have to formally request it,” Sanchez said when asked what obstacles stand in her way. She said she hasn’t gotten around to requesting membership because, with Congress being tied up with major spending and economic recovery matters in recent weeks, “Who’s had any time to do anything around here?”

For now, that means Sanchez is the only Hispanic House Member who doesn’t belong to the caucus, which boasts 24 members in the House and one from the Senate, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Velázquez and other CHC leaders met with Sanchez last week to try to bring her back into the fold, but the meeting didn’t appear to sway the California Democrat.

“Look, Loretta is welcome to come back anytime she wants. She says that she’s going to take some time,” Velázquez said. “We welcome her contributions and we welcome her to come anytime she wants.”

The CHC chairwoman said Sanchez is “very much busy” in her roles as vice chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism. Sanchez also sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Asked if she wants Sanchez to return to the group, Velázquez said, “I want for the Hispanic caucus to grow in numbers and strength. She can bring that strength to us. She’s welcome to come anytime.”

But Velázquez still couldn’t say why Sanchez hasn’t returned yet. “I don’t know. Go and ask her.”

Sanchez said Velázquez laid “some good groundwork” during their meeting, in terms of highlighting some appealing changes to the caucus. A previous concern, Sanchez said, was that the group’s bylaws and task forces didn’t reflect “what was going on.”

Members heading up the task forces were “the same people over and over again,” Sanchez said, and some “were not even calling a meeting.”

But even now that Baca is no longer the chairman and the task forces have been restructured to be more inclusive — both of which Sanchez praised — it may not be enough to draw her back in.

Sanchez dismissed the idea that lingering tensions with Baca are part of the reason she won’t rejoin. For his part, Baca said he didn’t know why she hasn’t come back. Asked if he thinks she should, he said, “That’s a question you have to ask her.”

Given that it costs $8,000 to join the CHC, the California Democrat said she is mulling how to best use her resources in the coming year. Sanchez is weighing a bid for California governor in 2010 and said: “If I run, I think I could win.”

Sanchez also signaled that other caucuses are more appealing to her. She praised the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition as being “very effective” and having “task forces that meet and work.” In addition, New Democrat Coalition Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) has personally asked Sanchez to “come back and get involved,” she said.

These groups have been more effective than the CHC, Sanchez said. “I don’t like to just join groups and just sit there.” Asked if that is how it felt when she was part of the CHC, she replied, “Yeah.”

Sanchez suggested that she is still an ally to the CHC, even if she isn’t part of it. “I have my seniority. The caucus looks to me to do border issues,” she said.

But at least one aide close to CHC operations questioned Sanchez’s role as an adviser, saying others in the group have similar experience on border matters.

“I’m sure she feels that way,” said the aide. “I don’t even know what to say. Everybody sort of works on border issues. Everyone sort of takes their share. We have a lot of California members.”

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a CHC member, said he didn’t think the group’s members were overly focused on Sanchez’s absence, saying: “Every individual makes a decision on caucuses.”

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