Becerra’s Snub of Trade Job Ices Others’ Ambitions

Posted December 17, 2008 at 3:00pm

A handful of the House Democrats’ most ambitious Members may now have to wait a lot longer for a shot at joining the leadership ranks after incoming Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) decided Tuesday night he’s not going anywhere.

Becerra’s decision to turn down the U.S. trade representative post in the Obama administration put plans for higher Caucus jobs on the back burner for at least four of his colleagues, perhaps even for years.

Reps. Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Joe Crowley (N.Y.) and Hilda Solis (Calif.) had been openly and covertly campaigning for Becerra’s slot as vice chairman of the Caucus. In the weeks it took Becerra to reach a decision, the lawmakers were scrambling to line up whip teams and work the Caucus.

But with Becerra now staying put and veteran Democratic leaders looking forward to their party controlling Congress and the White House for the first time in 14 years, it could be several years before another post in the hierarchy opens up.

Meek, a youthful up-and-comer, did not appear miffed, releasing a near-sycophantic statement praising Becerra.

“Whether serving in an Obama Administration or as the Representative from California’s 31st Congressional District, Congressman Becerra is above all a dedicated public servant who continues to play a vital role in our nation’s policy conversation,” Meek said.

“Over this past month, I have held numerous conversations with Congressman Becerra and my respect for him has only increased.”

Meek is a top Pelosi ally and has regularly been mentioned as a candidate for Democratic leadership openings. Similarly, Crowley — a party fundraising powerhouse — has had his eye on the joining the top Democratic ranks for some time, having pursued positions both quietly and publicly including having run once before for the vice chairman job. Kaptur ran unsuccessfully against Becerra last month for the No. 5 post, and Solis’ name has previously come up as a possible leadership contender as well.

Becerra appeared to decide that being a top guy in an activist House would be preferable to being a second-tier Obama Cabinet member, particularly if trade isn’t an immediate priority for the new administration. Becerra told the newspaper La Opinión that he was concerned that the trade issue would not be an Obama priority, and he also cited the toll traveling would take on his family.