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SANCHEZ, Loretta

SANCHEZ, Loretta
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


In 1996 Loretta Sanchez won election to the United States House of Representatives—her first political office—by toppling a polarizing, longtime incumbent. During her 20-year tenure in the House, Sanchez was an advocate for women in the military and specialized in national security policy, rising to become one of the most senior Democrats on two influential committees—Armed Services and Homeland Security. In 2003, after her sister Linda won election to the House, the two became the first sisters to serve in Congress.

Loretta Sanchez was born in Lynwood, California, on January 7, 1960, the oldest daughter of Ignacio Sandoval Sanchez and Maria Socorro Macias Sanchez.1 Her father worked as a machinist at a plastics and rubber factory; her mother worked as a secretary and elementary school teacher. Loretta, the second oldest of seven children, grew up in the family’s modest house in Anaheim.2 Her brother, Frank, recalled that his sister “was a role model for all the girls; she was an overachiever. In a way, she was always a politician. She taught [her sisters] Linda and Martha that you have to grease the wheel before you get it to move.”3 Loretta graduated from Katella High School in Anaheim and went to college at Chapman University in Orange, California, where she earned a BS in economics in 1982. Two years later, Sanchez earned an MBA from American University in Washington, DC. From 1984 to 1987, she worked as a special projects manager at the Orange County transportation authority. Sanchez then entered the private sector in the investment banking industry and, later, worked as a strategist at a leading consulting company. She married Stephen Brixey III, a securities trader, and the couple settled in Orange County, California. They divorced in 2004. Sanchez married Jack Einwechter, a retired U.S. Army colonel, in 2011.4

Sanchez had started out as a registered Republican and fiscal conservative, but she broke with the GOP in 1992, believing the party had marginalized immigrants and women. Her first attempt at political office was a 1994 campaign as a Democrat for a seat on the Anaheim city council; Sanchez finished eighth out of 16 contenders.5

In 1996 Sanchez declared her candidacy for a seat in the U.S. House from central Orange County—including much of Anaheim and Santa Ana; Disneyland was a major economic engine in the region. Long considered a bulwark of white, suburban, middle-class voters, Orange County had been reshaped by an influx of immigrant populations in the late twentieth century. By the 1990s the Forty-sixth District’s population was nearly 30 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Asian.6

During the Democratic primary, Sanchez touted her business credentials, particularly her effort to secure funding from national companies to establish programs between local grade schools and state colleges in Orange County.7 Despite her lack of political experience, she defeated three male contenders in the Democratic primary with a plurality of 35 percent of the vote. In the general election Sanchez faced 12-term incumbent Republican Robert Kenneth Dornan, a controversial and outspoken conservative known as “B-1 Bob”—a reference to both the Air Force bomber of the same name built in his district and for his pro-defense positions generally. Dornan was a polarizing lawmaker with a national profile—he often served as a substitute host on conservative Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show. He was widely favored against Sanchez, and as a result did little campaigning in 1996.8

Sanchez’s platform included support for small- and medium-sized businesses, investment in high-tech research, and federal funding for school improvements. Sanchez appealed to the district’s traditionally conservative voters with a tough-on-crime agenda while also advocating a ban on assault weapons and the elimination of the gun show loophole. She sought to boost Hispanic voter turnout, which increased from 14 to 20 percent of the total vote, compared to the previous election. And she won the support of labor unions, progressives, and Hollywood donors—out raising Dornan by almost $70,000. In the waning days of the campaign, President William J. (Bill) Clinton came to the district on her behalf. On election night Sanchez trailed by several hundred votes, but a count of absentee ballots during the next week, put her over the top. Sanchez prevailed with a 984-vote margin, eking out a 47-to-46 percent win.9

For more than a year, Sanchez (who some colleagues had dubbed the “dragon slayer”) had to contend with Dornan’s formal challenge to her election and his insults in the press that she “ran a dirty campaign and she is unqualified.”10 In February 1998, the House voted overwhelmingly to dismiss Dornan’s charge that illegal votes had tipped the election toward Sanchez.11

Sanchez faced Dornan again in the 1998 general election, one of the most expensive races in the country. This time, Sanchez prevailed convincingly with 56 percent of the vote. Sanchez’s clash with Dornan gave her a national platform, and she soon became a party leader helping to draw support from Hispanic voters, women, and young people. She was appointed the general co-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and became the honorary chair of Democratic presidential nominee Albert Arnold Gore Jr.’s political action committee in 2000. In Sanchez’s seven subsequent re-elections she won comfortably, garnering 60 percent of the vote or more on all but one occasion.12

When Sanchez took her seat in the House at the opening of the 105th Congress (1997–1999), she received assignments on the Education and Workforce Committee and the National Security Committee (later renamed Armed Services). She served on Education and Workforce until 2005, but remained on Armed Services for her entire career. Additionally, in the 109th Congress (2005–2007), she won a seat on the newly created Homeland Security Committee, where she remained for the duration of her time in the House. In the 110th and 111th Congresses (2007–2011), when Democrats held the House majority, Sanchez chaired the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism.13

After Republicans captured the House in 2010 Sanchez angled to become the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. When the Democratic Caucus voted to assign seniority in the committee she tied Adam Smith of Washington on the first ballot but eventually lost the ranking member spot in the second round of voting, 97 to 86.14 By her final term in office, Sanchez had risen to the post of number two Democrat on both Homeland Security and Armed Services. Sanchez, who was skeptical of handing too much power to intelligence agencies tracking suspected terrorists, voted against the USA PATRIOT Act in the fall of 2001. And in October 2002 she voted against the resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq (Sanchez was one of about 130 Members who opposed it).15

From her seat on the Armed Forces Committee, Sanchez was a leading advocate for women in the military, and a cofounder of the congressional Women in the Military Caucus. For years she lobbied and submitted bills to repeal the prohibition against women serving in combat roles, and in 2015 the Defense Department opened all combat roles to women. Sanchez also repeatedly pressed for changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice so that sexual assault crimes would be handled in a manner similar as those tried in the federal courts.16 She also cosponsored a bill in 2013 with Republican Jackie Walorski of Indiana which extended federal whistleblower protections to servicemen and women who reported sexual assaults. The measure passed the House and was eventually folded into a separate defense bill.17 That same year, Sanchez authored a bill (later added to the annual defense appropriations act), that required unit commanders to report incidents of sexual harassment in annual performance evaluations and increased their accountability for incidents that occurred in their units.18

Sanchez was also a member of Democratic Blue Dog Caucus, which sought limited and targeted spending. She pushed for a major overhaul of the Internal Revenue Service, and supported pay-as-you-go requirements and other deficit reductions. She was one of roughly 60 Democrats who opposed the taxpayer funded Troubled Asset Relief Program which bailed out the banks during the economic meltdown in the summer of 2008.19 But Sanchez also believed the federal government had a beneficial role to play in everyday life, particularly in education. As a former student in the Head Start program, Sanchez vowed to make federally funded education programs available to low-income children. She also authored legislation to encourage tax-free bonds to raise money to build and renovate schools.20

With a growing immigrant population in her district, Sanchez took a keen interest in Vietnamese-U.S. relations. In 2000 she accompanied President Clinton on his historic trip to Vietnam—the first by a sitting U.S. President since Richard M. Nixon in 1969. Sanchez used the opportunity to discuss human rights with political dissidents. That led the Vietnamese government to deny her entry into the country on three subsequent trips. In 2007, when she finally obtained a visa and visited the country again, she criticized Vietnam’s lack of transparency and sought to meet with the wives of political prisoners.21 In the 111th Congress (2009–2011), Sanchez introduced a measure calling on the Vietnamese government to release imprisoned bloggers and journalists and to respect internet rights and freedom of speech. “The U.S,” she said on the House Floor, “must take a stand against Vietnam’s human rights violations. We are a beacon of freedom, of democracy, and it is our responsibility to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice.”22 In 2011 she offered an amendment to a Homeland Security funding bill to add money to prevent child exploitation and trafficking, and pointed to the prevalence of these practices in Vietnam.23

Over the course of her career, Sanchez developed what one political almanac termed a “spirited and unconventional style.” In 2000 she stirred controversy before the Democratic National Convention by planning a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion, a decision that she reversed only when House colleagues and the Gore presidential campaign complained publicly.24 In early 2007, Sanchez quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus after a public feud with a fellow California Democrat and chairman of the caucus, Joe Baca. Sanchez claimed that Baca had made comments that demeaned women, including her—a charge which he denied—and that he had acted autocratically as chairman; she never returned to the group.25 She was also known for her whimsical Christmas cards, often adorned by her fluffy cat Gretzky.26

In 2002 Sanchez helped her younger sister Linda, a labor lawyer, campaign and win election to a U.S. House seat in a neighboring congressional district. When the two were sworn in at the opening of the 108th Congress in January 2003, they became the first sisters ever to serve together in Congress.27

Sanchez considered runs for California governor in 2003 and 2009; and in 2010, the year Republicans surged back into the majority after four years of Democratic control, she faced the stiffest challenge of her House career. Republican state assemblyman Van Tran—a refugee who had fled Saigon in 1975 with his family—mounted a challenge that drew $1 million in campaign contributions and brought much of the district’s Vietnamese community into his camp. Sanchez faced a backlash from many Asian-Americans when she said in a Spanish-language Univision interview that “the Vietnamese and the Republicans are, with an intensity, (trying) to take this seat.” Complicating matters, an independent candidate, Cecilia Iglesias, jumped into the race. But Sanchez managed to right her campaign, outraised Tran nearly two-to-one, and secured 53 percent of the vote; Tran took 39 percent and Iglesias took 8 percent.28

In 2016 Sanchez opted to not run for an eleventh term in the House in order to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer who had decided to retire at the conclusion of the 114th Congress (2015–2017). Sanchez stressed her decades of experience in Washington, particularly her work on defense and security issues. “There are two kinds of candidates,” she said. “Those who want to be something and those who want to do something. I am running for Senate because I am a doer.”29 The race pitted her against the Democratic Party establishment favorite, California attorney general Kamala Harris. In the state’s top two primary winner format, Sanchez placed second behind Harris to advance to the general election.30 Throughout the general election Harris maintained a significant advantage in fundraising and in the polls. On Election Day, Harris prevailed by a 62-to-38 percent margin of victory.31


1Politics in America, 2002 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2001): 152–153.

2Gregg Zoroya, “The Freshman,” 13 July 1997, Los Angeles Times Magazine: 8.

3Jennifer Mena, “Sister Act’s Ascent to Congress Has Roots in No-Nonsense Upbringing,” 23 June 2003, Los Angeles Times: B1.

4Karin Tanabe, “Loretta Sanchez Tying the Knot,” 14 July 2011, Politico, 037459; Martin Wisckol, “Rep. Loretta Sanchez to Wed Saturday,” 15 July 2011, Orange County Register (Anaheim, CA), https://www.ocregister. com/2011/07/15/rep-loretta-sanchez-to-wed-saturday-2/.

5Greg Hernandez, “Anaheim Council, Mayoral Election Draws A Crowd,” 18 September 1994, Los Angeles Times: B1; No author, “Final California Election Results: Orange County,” 10 November 1994, Los Angeles Times: A25.

6Almanac of American Politics, 2002 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group Inc., 2001): 277; Dina Elboghdady, “Eclectic Democratic Field Hopes To Unseat Dornan,” 4 March 1996, Orange County Register: n.p.

7“Loretta Sanchez,” New Members of Congress Almanac for the 105th Congress (Washington, DC: Almanac Publishing Inc., 1996): 32.

8Almanac of American Politics, 2000 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group Inc., 1999): 297.

9Peter M. Warren and Nancy Cleeland, “Challenger Sanchez Has Dornan Out for the Count,” 13 November 1996, Los Angeles Times: A1; Politics in America, 2000 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1999): 297; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

10Warren and Cleeland, “Challenger Sanchez Has Dornan Out for the Count”; Gebe Martinez, “Swearing in Won’t End Sanchez Saga,” 7 January 1997, Los Angeles Times: A1.

11“House Formally Dismisses Dornan Challenge to Sanchez,”13 February 1998, Washington Post: A6; Jodi Wilogren, “House Gives Sanchez Reason for Celebration: Task Force Drops Inquiry, Leaving Her With Incumbency, National Celebrity and Fund-Raising Prowess,” 5 February 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

12“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

13Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present”; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Chairs of Subcommittees of Standing Committees in the U.S. House, 1947–Present.”

14Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011): 263.

15Phil Willon, “8 Things to Know about Senate Hopeful Loretta Sanchez’s 20-Year Political Career,” 7 July 2016, Los Angeles Times: n.p.; Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003).

16Congressional Record, House, 109th Cong., 1st sess. (9 February 2005): E199.

17To amend title 10, United States Code, to require an Inspector General investigation of allegations of retaliatory personnel actions taken in response to making protected communications regarding sexual assault, H.R. 1864, 113th Cong. (2013).

18Willon, “8 Things to Know about Senate Hopeful Loretta Sanchez’s 20-Year Political Career.”

19Jennifer Bendery, “Blue Dogs Silent on Whether They Could Support More Aid in Stimulus,” 1 February 2007, CongressNow: n.p.

20Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2011): 155.

21Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Arlington, VA: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2015): 300–301.

22Calling on the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to release imprisoned bloggers and respect Internet freedom, H. Res. 672, 111th Cong. (2009); Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (21 October 2009): 25264.

23Almanac of American Politics, 2016: 300–301.

24Almanac of American Politics, 2016: 301; Almanac of American Politics, 2004 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2003): 284.

25Politics in America, 2012: 154.

26Amie Parnes, “Rep. Sanchez Unveils New Card?,” 13 December 2010, Politico,; Kim Geiger, “Beloved Cat Still a Part of Loretta Sanchez’s Whacky Holiday Card,” 16 December 2011, Los Angeles Times, story.html.

27Mena, “Sister Act’s Ascent to Congress Has Roots in No-Nonsense Upbringing.” See also Richard Simon, “Loretta and Linda Sanchez Star in House’s First Sister Act,” 8 January 2003, Los Angeles Times: A8; Dena Bunis, “Congress Gets Its First Sister Act: Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Sibling Linda Gain Historic Win for Hispanics and Women,” 6 November 2002, Orange County Register: B1; Roxanne Roberts, “House Mates: Loretta and Linda Sanchez Are Congress’s First Sister Act. They Work Well Together. The Question Is, Can They Live Together?,” 12 December 2002, Washington Post: C1.

28Almanac of American Politics, 2016: 301.

29Christopher Cadelago, “Sanchez to Challenge Harris for Senate Seat; Says ‘Insiders’ Won’t Decide Race,” 14 May 2015, Sacramento Bee, https://www.; Michael Finnegan, “Rep. Loretta Sanchez Enters Race for Barbara Boxer’s Senate Seat,” 14 May 2015, Los Angeles Times, political/la-me-pc-loretta-sanchez-senate-campaign-20150414-story.html.

30John Myers, “Two Democrats Will Face Off for California’s U.S. Senate Seat, Marking First Time a Republican Will Not Be in Contention,” 8 June 2016, Los Angeles Times,

31Vanessa Williams, “Kamala Harris Continues to Hold Solid Lead over Loretta Sanchez in California Senate Race,” 21 September 2016, Washington Post, continues-to-hold-big-lead-over-loretta-sanchez-in-california-senaterace/; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Chapman University
Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives, Leatherby Libraries

Orange, CA
Papers: The papers of former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez have not yet been processed.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Loretta Sanchez" in Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2013.

"Loretta Sanchez" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

Sánchez, Linda and Loretta, with Richard Buskin. Dream in Color: How the Sánchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
    • Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities - Chair
  • House Committee - Education and the Workforce
  • House Committee - Homeland Security
    • Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism - Chair
  • House Committee - National Security
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Homeland Security
  • Joint Committee - Joint Economic Committee
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