In Scramble for 216, Sanchez Presents Unexpected Hurdle

Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:32pm

As their whip efforts narrow to just a handful of Members, House Democratic leaders are facing an unlikely problem vote: Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.).

Sanchez was nowhere to be found on Saturday — she was in Florida on a fundraising jaunt, two Democratic sources said — and while leaders expected her to return for the Sunday vote on final passage, they weren’t assured. What’s more, leaders now list the Orange County Democrat as a “no” vote.

Sanchez’s office did not return a request for comment Saturday evening. She cast her last vote shortly after 6 p.m. Friday and missed all seven recorded votes on Saturday, a review of the record shows.

Democratic hand-wringing about her status — geographically and intentionally — underlines just how tight the margin has become for leaders trying to zero in on 216 votes as the clock ticks down to their appointed deadline. Leaders are still hunting for a winning coalition of votes — and still struggling for a breakthrough abortion fix that will convert three or four holdouts angling for tougher protections against public funding of the procedure.

Sanchez this week told the Orange County Register that she needs to be satisfied that the health care overhaul is affordable. “The Senate bill is a bad bill,” she told the paper.

Politically, the vote should be a relatively easy lift for Sanchez. The seven-term lawmaker has been re-elected with at least 60 percent of the vote since 2000, winning by a decisive 69 percent in 2008. President Barack Obama carried the district by 60 percent.

But Sanchez has demonstrated some hesitance to supporting health care reform, joining 14 other Democrats who voted against the rule governing debate on the House bill back in November. She ended up supporting final passage of the measure, but she was the last Democrat to vote, and did so only after coaxing from leadership. The House bill passed with unanimous support from the 34 Democrats in the California delegation. And after Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) affirmed on Saturday he will support the Senate-passed version and a package of fixes, Sanchez was the lone Golden State Democrat apparently still mulling a vote against the bill.

The White House and Democratic leaders have been working Sanchez in recent days, with Obama calling her on Friday, according to a Democratic aide. And the pro-reform group Organizing for America on Saturday asked its members in her district to call her office and register support. One source said leaders expect they can flip her vote on the floor, if it comes to that.

And if she shows up.