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Rep. Loretta Sanchez: ‘I’ve never attacked Muslims’

Loretta Sanchez

Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County in February.

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a candidate for U.S. Senate, brushed aside criticism Monday of remarks she made last week that up to 20% of Muslims wanted to go after the Western way of life “in any way possible.”

“I didn’t say that up to 20% of Muslims are willing to engage in terrorism acts personally — and I didn’t say that and I didn’t believe that,” the Orange County Democrat said in her first public remarks on the subject.

Although her initial comments, made on former CNN host Larry King’s PoliticKING online show, were interpreted by some as a criticism of American Muslims, Sanchez noted that she was speaking about Muslims internationally and citing estimates made by other analysts.

“Of course I would believe and I know this to be a fact that U.S. Muslims are significantly less supportive or sympathetic to terrorism and the cause of ISIS and others,” she said. “I believe that most Muslim Americans are committed to peace and democracy.”

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Sanchez’s comments came at a Buena Park gathering during which she accepted a Senate campaign endorsement from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, the union group that represents 35,000 members in Southern California.

Sanchez’s King show remarks erupted amid the political backlash to the San Bernardino killings by two radicalized Islamic State sympathizers. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a moratorium on allowing Muslims into the country, and other GOP candidates have suggested other restrictions in the wake of the California and Paris attacks.

Sanchez indicated that she’d had conversations over the weekend with Muslim Americans. She attributed negative reaction to the fact that Muslim Americans are  “under attack” and that political figures “have gone after them as a scapegoat for all the wrong things that are going on.”

But she denied that she was among them.

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“I’ve never attacked Muslims,” she said. “I have been at the forefront of supporting them.”

Her new terminology on Monday hinted, at minimum, at a new sensitivity about how her comments might be cast.

Assuming that 5% of Muslims backed terrorist strategies, she said, “what that means is 95% of Muslims around the world are actually with us. These people want to help us solve the problem.”

Sanchez framed her view differently on the King show.

A transcript indicates that Sanchez was speaking in broad terms about Muslims across the world. Her response followed a question about President Obama’s reluctance to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“Oh, well, you know, what’s in a name?” she said. “That’s always the issue, and according to the types of laws that we have maybe the president has decided that’s not the way he’s going to speak to it. But certainly, we know that there is a small group — but we don’t know how big that is, could be anywhere between 5 and 20% — from the people that I speak to, that Islam is their religion, and who have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in any way possible. In particular to go after what they consider Western norms. Our way of life. They are not content enough to have their way of looking at the world; they want to put their way on everybody in the world.”

She added: “Again, I don’t know how big that is, depending on who you talk to, but they are certainly willing to go to extremes. They are willing to use and do use terrorism, and it is in the name of a very wrong way of looking at Islam. I don’t fault the president on his verbiage. I want him to understand and to go after this ISIL, ISIS, Daesh State that people are trying to form because it’s going after us.”

King then asked if she was confident “we can really wipe them out.”

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“We must,” she replied. “It’s no longer, and we have seen this, it’s no longer a matter of containing. It is a matter of eliminating that threat to America and to Americans, and to the peace-loving world that the majority of human beings on this planet are.”

The Monday endorsement by the Southern California branch of the carpenters’ union was good news for Sanchez’s Senate campaign.

“She comes from a labor household and has not forgotten her roots,” said the union’s vice president, Randy Thornhill, in a gathering of union officials and workers at their Buena Park headquarters.

Recent polls on the 2016 race have shown Sanchez trailing California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, another Democrat, but leading a handful of Republican candidates. Under the state’s top-two rules, both she and Harris could make the November runoff if their poll positions hold in the June primary.

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

For political news and analysis, follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker

For more on politics, go to latimes.com/decker

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