August 4, 2006

Becerra launches bid for caucus vice chairman

By Josephine Hearn

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) intends to run for Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman if the party wins control of the House in November, he told colleagues Friday.

A seventh-term representative from Los Angeles, Becerra is the first Democrat to throw his hat into the hypothetical race for vice chairman, but not the first to show interest in a leadership position in a Democratic House. Rep. John Murtha (Pa.) surprised Democrats in June when he announced he would challenge Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) for majority leader.

Murtha suspended the race after some Democrats raised concerns that a divisive internal leadership battle before the November election could divert their attention from winning the majority. Acknowledging the concerns raised by Murtha’s bid for majority leader, Becerra told colleagues that his focus is on gaining control of the House.

“My first priority and principal commitment to our Democratic Caucus is securing a Democratic majority,” he wrote to all House Democrats in a “Dear Colleague” letter. “As we move forward, I want you to know of my intent to run for the position of Vice Chair for the Democratic Caucus when we attain the majority.”

Becerra will not challenge current Vice Chair John Larson (D-Conn.), according to Becerra spokesman Steve Haro. Instead, he is hoping that all Democratic leaders will move up the ladder when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes Speaker, leaving the position of vice chairman open.

“John Larson is a man for whom Congressman Becerra has a deep respect and affinity,” Haro said.

Becerra declared his intention to run after securing the endorsement late Friday of the 21-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). In a hastily arranged meeting, Hispanic lawmakers considered three Southern Californians for the endorsement: Becerra and Reps. Linda Sánchez and Hilda Solis. Becerra received nine votes to Sánchez’s six and Solis’s two.

Three members did not attend. Among the absentees were Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), who suffered a mild heart attack Friday (he was released from the hospital Sunday), and John Salazar (D-Colo.), who was attending his uncle’s funeral.

The CHC began to consider the idea of endorsing a candidate for vice chairman only last week, several Democratic aides said, a move that forced Sánchez and Solis to scramble to mount their campaigns. The group decided at a meeting Thursday to make an endorsement the following day.

Becerra was elected in 1992 after former Rep. Edward Roybal (D), California’s first Hispanic congressman, announced his retirement. Becerra attended college and law school at Stanford and became the first Hispanic to serve on the Ways and Means Committee.

He has a solidly liberal voting record and is a member of the Progressive Caucus. He opposed the president’s Social Security overhaul and the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

He won his last reelection campaign with 80 percent of the vote. In 2001, Becerra lost a Democratic primary contest for mayor of Los Angeles.

Becerra has been a strong fundraiser this cycle. He has paid $125,000 of the $150,000 he owes in member dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a July 12 dues summary. He has raised $476,000 for the committee this cycle, more than Larson.

Reprinted from “The Hill” the newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress.

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