Becerra Turns Down USTR Position

Earlier this month I wondered whether Congressman Xavier Becerra would accept a position in the Obama administration as United States Trade Representative, especially considering that to do so he would have to give up what appeared to be a genuine path to the Speakership in the future. According to Ben Smith, though, despite the fact that Becerra was assumed to be in for USTR, he is now saying no.

Rep. Xavier Becerra tells the editorial board of La Opinion that he has turned down the job of U.S. trade representative, having concluded -- trade watchers take note -- that trade won't be the first, second, or third priority of the Obama administration.

It's obviously difficult to say no to a President or President-elect asking you to be a part of his team, but at least from my vantage -- perhaps excessively focused on Congress in relation to the executive -- I'd take a shot at being Speaker, even a far from sure one and a temporally distant one, over a chance to be USTR. And apparently, Becerra is thinking along similar lines.

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Will Becerra Give Up Future Shot at Speakership to be USTR?

Last month California Congressman Xavier Becerra was elected as the fifth highest Ranking Democrat in the House, the Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman. None of the four Democrats out-ranking him in the chamber is under the age of 60, meaning that Becerra, age 50, could have a real shot at the Speakership down the road if he sticks around long enough.

But according to CQ Politics, Barack Obama wants Becerra, the highest ranking Hispanic in the House, to serve as U.S. Trade Representative in his administration, and Becerra may be on the brink of accepting the position.

Rep. Xavier Becerra , D-Calif., has been offered the post of U.S. Trade Representative in the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama , according to Democratic sources.

Becerra is weighing whether to give up his House seniority and newly won spot as vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus to take the Cabinet-level post, a source close to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said. But another Democratic source said the job has been offered and accepted.

Jonathan Martin similarly reports that Becerra "was not inclined to accept the post but that he's likely to change his mind after direct lobbying from the pres-elect."

This is clearly a tough decision for Becerra. When the President asks you to serve, it's difficult to say "no." What's more, while USTR isn't the most prominent position in an administration, it could be a stepping stone for bigger things to come. Rob Portman, the last USTR, currently serves later served as the head of the Office of Management and Budget. Robert Zoellick, Portman's predecessor, is now the President of the World Bank. Mickey Kantor, Bill Clinton's first USTR, was subsequently appointed to be Commerce Secretary. The list goes on.

Yet on the other hand, Becerra could have a real shot at becoming the first ever Hispanic Speaker of the House. His path to the Speakership would be far from sure. While Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn are 69 and 68, respectively, and thus might not be likely heirs to Nancy Pelosi when she leaves the Speakership down the road, Caucus Chairman John Larson is a bit younger at 60 and thus might be a logical successor to Pelosi, or Hoyer or Clyburn as her immediate successor. Additionally, while Chris Van Hollen, 49, ranks below Becerra in the leadership, his tenure as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has earned him the respect of the caucus, thus giving him some strength in a potential run for Speaker in the future. That all said, while Becerra doesn't have a sure shot at the Speakership in the future, he does have a real one. And it's difficult to turn down a genuine opportunity to be Speaker. But Rahm Emanuel did it -- and so too might Becerra.

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