As speculation grows about Hillary Clinton’s choice for a running mate, one name keeps popping up, at least in California – Congressman Xavier Becerra.
Becerra, who was born and raised in Sacramento and worked on the Capitol staff before getting elected to the Assembly, has served for 24 years in his L.A.-area House seat. He is fourth in the House Democratic leadership, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the party’s highest ranking Latino.
“The bottom line is, Hillary Clinton will be the quarterback – she’s going to make the call,”
In California, politicians who go to Congress often wind up in obscurity, unknown except to their immediate constituents — and sometimes not even to them.
Not Becerra. He’s a familiar figure on Spanish-language television in California, including Univision and Telemundo, as an advocate for immigrants’ rights and as a supporter of Clinton, who wants to strengthen her links to the Latino community. In recent weeks, he has been on the stump on behalf of Clinton, speaking in Spanish as well as English.
Becerra is aware of the vice presidential buzz, and has compared his position to that of a player on the bench at a football game.
“You work, you prepare so that they want to call your number. You want to show that you earned the chance to have them call your number when it counts the most. The bottom line is, Hillary Clinton will be the quarterback – she’s going to make the call,” Becerra said on Chair Chats, a political interview show.
In a separate interview, responding to comments about his potential role as Clinton’s running mate, he didn’t rule it out but said the speculation was premature.
“I don’t think we should be getting ahead of ourselves this quickly,” Becerra told Capitol Weekly. “This will one of the first big decisions she’ll make and there are a lot of great names out there,” he said.
On campaign issues, “I’m in communication with her and her team quite a bit,” he added, but he hasn’t been approached by her as a possible VP pick and doesn’t know if anybody else has.
“I hear what you hear,” he said.
On Monday, the New York Times profiled Becerra, and noted his political connections.
“For those who play the insider game, Mr. Becerra was part of a three-person presidential delegation to the Vatican for the canonization Mass for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014. Joining him were John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, who is expected to lead the vice-presidential selection process, and Katie Beirne Fallon, President Obama’s former legislative affairs director, whose husband, Brian Fallon, is a spokesman for the Clinton campaign,” the Times reported.
Becerra, 58, who grew up in South Sacramento, graduated from McClatchy High School, then went on to Stanford University, where he got his BA and law degrees. He was the first in his family to go to college. His parents still live in Sacramento.
A newly minted lawyer, Becerra worked on the staff of former Sen. Art Torres during the mid-1980s, then spent three years at the state attorney general’s office. In 1990, the same year California voters approved term limits, Becerra was elected to the Assembly. He served one term, and ran for Congress in 1992. His 34th Congressional District, which includes downtown L.A., Chinatown and Boyle Heights, is two-thirds Latino, and 20 percent Asian.
Recalling Becerra’s time on the legislative staff, Torres described him as “driven by consumer protections, education, human rights issues.” Torres, former chair of the state Democratic Party and now the vice chair of California’s stem cell agency, was Becerra’s boss and later helped him get elected to the Assembly.
Torres had hired Becerra to work in his L.A. district office.
“Very bright, and he’s excellent bilingually, so he has the ability to frame persuasive arguments for the caucus,” Torres said. “We’re still very close, we text all the time.”
A check of the records at the state attorney general’s office showed a case in which Becerra served as one of the staff attorneys representing the state in a case involving a teacher who suffered a knee injury and sought disability payments. The Teachers’ Retirement Board denied the request, but an appeals court ruled that the teacher was entitled to the benefits. Becerra was on the attorney general’s legal team.
Last year, he considered a run for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, but decided against entering the race. State Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, entered the race early and built significant fund-raising numbers.
“But here are the more relevant numbers: 75, 76 and 75,” wrote Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain last July. “Those are the ages of House Minority Leader Pelosi and her two top lieutenants, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and James Clyburn of South Carolina.”
Despite his more than two decades in the House, Becerra is relatively young and fourth in line in the House Democratic hierarchy That gives him a realistic shot at a higher spot, even the speakership, if Democrats retake the House.