WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus survived a confidence vote Tuesday night, and he pledged to unify the group in the wake of an embarrassing leadership dispute that led one of his critics to quit.
Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., refused to give details about the vote after a 1 1/2-hour meeting broke up except to say that it happened and he won. His critics and others in the 21-member, all-Democratic caucus refused to comment.
Baca critics had been pushing for a new leadership structure that would dilute his power, but he had resisted.
"We're all united," Baca told reporters. "This is basically a step in the right direction."
Caucus members and aides said later that the vote was not unanimous and that it was conducted under a rule that would have required a two-thirds vote for Baca to lose. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
Baca has been accused by fellow Southern California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of calling her a "whore," which he denies. Sanchez quit the group and other women in the caucus complained that Baca's leadership fosters an atmosphere that belittles women.
Baca was supported by only one of six women in the caucus when he was elected chairman in November, and Sanchez, her sister Rep. Linda Sanchez, and two others subsequently contested the election procedure.
Loretta Sanchez has said she'll rejoin the caucus only if Baca is out as chairman. Through her spokeswoman, she declined to comment Tuesday.
Baca's spokesman, Michael Levin, issued a statement after Tuesday's meeting, saying: "Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus gave CHC chair Joe Baca a vote of confidence tonight. Congressman Baca appreciates the support of his CHC colleagues and looks forward to working with them on concerns of the nation's 45 million Hispanics."
A year ago, six caucus members — including Loretta and Linda Sanchez — cut ties to the group's campaign arm after it helped finance the unsuccessful campaigns of Baca's two sons for seats in the California Legislature. Jeremy Baca and Joe Baca Jr. both lost, to female opponents, in last June's Democratic primary.
Baca defended the decision to give money to them and other nonfederal candidates, saying the caucus should seek to build a farm team. Opponents said the focus instead should be on electing Latino House members.