Members Circling for Becerra’s Vice Chair Post

Posted December 4, 2008 at 5:59pm

As Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) huddled in Chicago Thursday with President-elect Barack Obama to discuss the U.S. trade representative job, a familiar cast of his House colleagues was angling to replace him as the newly elected Caucus vice chair.

With no official opening at the leadership table yet, the field of potential Becerra successors remains in flux.

But Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who last month backed off a run despite pressure from moderates and endorsed Becerra, is moving swiftly to lock up support, Democratic aides and lobbyists said.

The affable Queens Democrat has been a prolific fundraiser — pulling in $6.4 million for the party this cycle — and appears to be benefiting from a perception in the Caucus that he is due. Crowley has been mentioned as a possible contender for numerous leadership posts in recent years, and he waged a narrowly unsuccessful bid for the vice chairmanship in 2006.

Sources close to him said he’s been aggressively working the phones to make his case to colleagues. But Crowley won’t necessarily walk into the position.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), one of the Democrats’ rising stars, also is considering a run, spokesman Jonathon Beeton said.

She would likely complicate Crowley’s bid, especially in a crowded field, since both lawmakers belong to the moderate New Democrat Coalition and would compete for the votes of centrist lawmakers.

The New Democrats are adding 15 new Members from the incoming freshman class, and Crowley’s early efforts appear to give him an edge with that group.

Other Democrats also are circling. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who ran against Becerra last month and lost 175-67, appears poised to reprise her bid.

And while the perception that Becerra had the blessing of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the vice chair race helped clear the field for him, it remains to be seen whether a Pelosi loyalist will make the race this time around.

One Pelosi ally, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), appears to be eyeing the contest, though his spokesman declined to comment. Likewise, insiders say another Pelosi loyalist, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) — whose Los Angeles district neighbors Becerra’s and who is a fellow member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — is considering a bid.

“I strongly support our Democratic leadership team, including Congressman Becerra,” Solis said in a statement. “I look forward to working in whatever capacity I can to help achieve the diverse needs of working families throughout our nation in the 111th Congress.”

Whether another CHC member will jump in is not yet clear, though strategists close to the famously fractious group said it is unlikely anyone among its ranks could count on unified Hispanic support the way Becerra did.

One reason other CHC members hoping to move up may not have emerged yet: they know better than many of their other Democratic colleagues that Becerra will need ample assurances about the terms of the trade representative job before giving up his leadership slot and a senior seat on the Ways and Means Committee.

Affectionately nicknamed “Stanford” by his fellow CHC members — a nod to his alma mater as well as his deliberative style — Becerra is taking a characteristically plodding approach to the decision, according to sources close to him.