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CHC’s Move Suggests Becerra’s Exit

In one of the clearest signals yet that Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) is preparing to accept an offer to become the U.S. trade representative, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this morning will attempt to nominate a candidate to replace him in the House Democratic leadership.

Rep. Hilda Solis (Calif.) is the only CHC member publicly eyeing Becerra’s fifth-ranking slot as vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, but she faces a field growing more crowded and competitive by the day.

Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.) — a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and, like Solis, a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — jumped into the race Tuesday evening.

“I hope to serve as one of the many leaders for our newer Members of Congress,” Meek said in a statement announcing his bid. “At the same time, I will continue to seek guidance from our Democratic leaders, committee chairs and subcommittee chairs that have the experience and knowledge to enact our legislative priorities in the years to come.”

And Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a prolific fundraiser, has been moving aggressively since last week to lock up support across the Caucus. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), who lost to Becerra last month, is also in the running.

Solis faces her first hurdle this morning, as she tries to rally the often-fractious CHC behind her. It was not clear how many of the group’s 21 members she would need to win over to gather its endorsement. “We’re going to vote,” said incoming CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.), adding that if her caucus can’t reach an agreement, “every member will be free to support whoever that member wants to support.”

The caucus requires two-thirds support before taking an official position but rarely gets involved in leadership elections, CHC spokesman Miguel Ayala said. Already, at least two caucus members are pledged to Crowley: Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) and New York Rep. José Serrano, who is making phone calls for his hometown colleague. In a Monday interview, Serrano said Hispanic lawmakers had already exerted themselves to install one of their own in leadership, only to see Becerra move to leave.

But Solis is arguing the record Hispanic turnout in the November elections earned that population a seat at the Democratic leadership table. “Should Congressman Xavier Becerra elect to leave Congress for another position, I believe it is critical that the leadership of the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives continue to reflect our nation’s great diversity,” she said.

Becerra himself declined to specify where he is in the process of making his decision while appearing to suggest only details remain to be ironed out. “There are some important pieces of the puzzle, and it’s a matter of being able to assemble what I think everyone is agreeing is a very top-notch team,” he said. “So it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.”

Nevertheless, he cautioned against reading too much into the CHC meeting. “It’s a sheer recognition of the fact that others are talking,” he said. “So I think they’re trying to make sure if there’s someone in the Hispanic caucus who wishes to run and wants to have an opportunity should I decide to move anywhere that they are prepared.”

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