California’s U.S. Senate candidates Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez attacked one another’s records, or lack thereof, during Wednesday’s debate in Los Angeles.
Harris is California’s attorney general. Sanchez is an Orange County congresswoman. They are competing to replace retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. All three are Democrats.
One claim by Harris on Sanchez’s Capitol Hill tenure stood out:
"My opponent has passed one bill in her 20 years in Congress, and that was to rename a post office."
We decided to check this provocative claim, and whether any context was missing.
To back up the statement, Harris’ campaign pointed to Sanchez’ record at congress.gov, the official website for federal legislative information.
It shows Sanchez has, indeed, sponsored only one bill that became law: A 2001 measure to rename an Orange County Post Office.
It also shows Sanchez has co-sponsored 179 bills that have become law. Bills are often co-sponsored by dozens of members of Congress at the same time.
Sanchez responded during the debate:
"It’s pretty obvious to me that my opponent doesn’t understand the Congress at all," Sanchez said. "You don't pass a bill on its own necessarily in the Congress; you pass it by putting it into bills."
Sanchez has a point: A search on congress.gov shows some of her colleagues, even some who have served longer than Sanchez, have introduced only a handful of bills that became law. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, for example, has served since 1991 and sponsored only three bills that became law.
Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has served since 1987, sponsored only seven bills that became law. Pelosi has, however, co-sponsored more than 400 measures now on the books.
In an article after the debate, the Los Angeles Times described the issue this way:
"Relative to the number of bills that are filed, few actually pass as standalone legislation and become law. Members often insert legislation into broader bills in hopes of increasing chances it will pass.
In fact, many of the day-to-day bills that do pass are to rename post offices — because they are not controversial.
Attacks about the naming of post offices have been a staple of congressional debates across the country, especially as Congress has done less and less actual legislating in recent years."
Sanchez’s military bills
During the debate, Sanchez claimed she’s placed "17 different pieces of legislation into one bill" under the National Defense Authorization Act.
The McClatchy news service reported in March that Sanchez "has been successful at getting her amendments into the National Defense Authorization Act, the sprawling budget that sets policy for the Department of Defense."
It added that Greg Jacob, former policy director of the Service Women’s Action Network, said his group often went to Sanchez for assistance in fighting the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.
"Congresswoman Sanchez has always been at the leading edge of the fight in regard to this issue," Jacob, a Marine Corps combat veteran who closely tracked her work on the Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy.
This is not the first time an opponent has attacked Sanchez’s legislative record. Van Tran, who challenged the congresswoman in the 2010 House race, criticized Sanchez "for getting only a single bill passed during her time in Congress, a measure to name a post office in Santa Ana."
U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris claimed her opponent Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez "has passed one bill in her 20 years in office, and that was to rename a post office."
That’s technically correct. But it ignores the fact that relatively few standalone bills introduced by members of Congress are passed on their own. Many are added as amendments to larger bills. Long-time Democratic House members Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi have sponsored a combined 10 bills that became law during their careers.
Sanchez has co-sponsored nearly 180 bills. And she’s been praised for successfully introducing policy bills that were later included in the nation’s military budget.
There’s technical truth to Harris’ statement.
But it takes things out of context and leaves the wrong impression that Sanchez has done next to nothing on Capitol Hill.
We rate Harris' claim Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.