Capitol Alert

Loretta Sanchez defends remarks about Muslims and terror

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., speaks during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., speaks during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a candidate for U.S. Senate, on Monday sought to clarify her comments about the possibly high number of Muslims worldwide who are willing to resort to extremes to target Western norms, but defended the premise, saying “I think it’s really begun a discussion and a conversation that we all need to have.”

“We have to try to understand the problem, or the issue at stake, before we can address how to go after it,” Sanchez said in response to questions. “And I would ask people, ‘Do you have other numbers, or other information?”

Sanchez has come under fire from Muslim, immigrant rights and Democratic Party activists for contending that 5 percent to 20 percent of Muslims want to form a caliphate to disrupt “our way of life.” The groups claim the range is too broad, too high and wrongly paints peaceful people in a violent and extreme light.

Sanchez said she is basing the figure on her experiences, knowledge, talks with world leaders and “thoughtful and scholarly discussion about extremist trends” in books, articles and surveys – “very credible sources,” including Pew Research Center, the British Broadcasting Corporation and the book “Islam and the Future of Tolerance.” “There’s a lot of information out there. And the range is still large,” she said.

I have never attacked Muslims.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez

But speaking in Buena Park, where she received the endorsement of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, Sanchez said her remarks were based not on the range of prospective terrorists, as they were understood to mean, but the number of people worldwide who support ISIS or other groups that may use terror. “I didn’t say that up 20 percent of Muslims are willing to engage in terrorist acts, personally. I didn’t say that and I didn’t believe that,” she said Monday.

Her comments drew critiques from several groups, including the Council on American Islamic-Relations to the California Immigrant Policy Center to the liberal Courage Campaign, which urged her to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race. Late Friday, Sanchez’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Kamala Harris, issued a statement on Facebook asserting that “Americans must stand up to hateful statements that cast suspicion on entire communities of people ...

“With far too many candidates and elected officials using divisive and hateful rhetoric targeting immigrants, women, and now Muslims, we must as a nation recognize that words do matter,” Harris wrote, through without making reference to Sanchez.

Sanchez has said she she will not comply with the demands to quit the contest, and on Monday contrasted the estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide with those in the U.S., who she said are “significantly less supportive or sympathetic to terrorism.”

“I have never attacked Muslims,” she said as part of the lengthy response Monday, adding most Muslim Americans are committed to peace and Democracy.

“You can take a look at my record and you will see that I have been on the forefront of supporting them; of telling people to ‘knock it off’ when they have been attacking them ... “I am simply saying that ... some experts in this area believe that the range is between 5 and 20” percent.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago