Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Sheldon Whitehouse
Update: In a lengthy statement on Wednesday, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse firmly disputed the reports that the elite Bailey's Beach Club with which he is associated has discriminatory policies. He also cited a statement from the club, issued to local media, attesting to this as well - though neither the club nor Whitehouse released specific details supporting this. "There is diversity in the membership and there are non-white club members; and ... improving diversity remains a priority and an active task for the club's new board," he said in his statement.
Whitehouse said he understood the calls for him to resign as a member but said he was unable to, as his wife now technically holds the membership and she was "on the right side of pushing for improvements." He continued: "I have worked relentlessly toward bringing greater equality of opportunity and outcome to all Americans."
The original article on the club controversy is below.
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is again facing questions about his membership at an elite private club that reportedly has had few if any non-white members.
But he pushed back this week on reports about the club's policies and his ties to it.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for the lawmaker says the Bailey's Beach Club, where Whitehouse was a member, has no rules prohibiting diversity at its club.
"The club has no racially discriminatory policy. The club confirmed for the senator that it has had and has members of color," Whitehouse's spokesperson said. (They did not provide further documentation confirming this.)
PEOPLE's efforts to reach the club management by phone were unsuccessful on Tuesday.
The club, also known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, was described by The New York Times in 2003 as "the queen of American resorts" even as the paper noted at the time that one member said of admittance: "Jewish, yes ... Blacks, not really."
The website GoLocal24 first reported on the 65-year-old Democrat's membership at Bailey's Beach Club in 2017.
The site described the club at the time as "all-white" and further reported that Whitehouse had promised to leave upon joining the Senate in 2006 - which his office disputes.
According to GoLocal24, the senator instead consolidated his membership at both Bailey's and the "all-male, all-white Bellevue Avenue Reading Room" with his wife, Sandra.
Whitehouse's spokesperson confirmed to PEOPLE that he is no longer a member of the club and transferred his shares to his wife in accordance with club policy.
"The Senator recalls transferring his shares to accommodate a club policy of spouses not both being members," the spokesperson says.
Asked about the club's membership in 2017, Whitehouse told GoLocal24: "I think it would be nice if they changed a little bit, but it's not my position." He said he would take up a push for diversity "privately."
In a brief interview with the site last week, he was asked about the club and diversity and said, "I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I'm sorry it hasn't happened yet."
When pressed on whether or not such a club should "continue to exist" in 2021, Whitehouse responded that places like Bailey's - of which he said there were "many" - are a "long tradition in Rhode Island."
By Monday, his position had seemingly shifted, with Whitehouse pushing back on GoLocal24 and telling reporters on Capitol Hill, "I think they got the facts wrong" when asked about issues around the diversity of members.
Asked to be more specific, he said, "I believed that there were - I don't spend a lot of time there; I couldn't tell you who the members are."
A 2019 story by GoLocal24 reported that the Whitehouses were some of the largest shareholders at the club, with membership stretching back generations on both sides of the couple's family.
Historically, some of America's wealthiest families have held memberships at the club, including the Vanderbilts and Astors.
In a statement to GoLocal24, Gary Dantzler, the executive director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, criticized Whitehouse's association with the club given his past statements about racism.
The senator "coming out and speaking about ending systemic racism while belonging to a 'whites only' private club is hypocrisy as it worst," Dantzler said.