The incoming Obama administration is using Congress as its recruiting base, potentially tapping two more up and comers – California Democrats Xavier Becerra and Mike Thompson – for high level administration positions.
Becerra is the front runner for the U.S. Trade Representative, and Thompson is being pushed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be Interior Secretary, according to Democratic aides.
If both these House Democrats move to the administration, they’ll join an even higher profile cast of former senators – Obama himself, Joe Biden as vice president and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – who have moved to the executive branch.
Obama has been consistently reaching out to his Democratic allies in Congress for both advice and recruiting, and Thompson is being pushed by several high level House Democrats.
The two California congressmen couldn’t represent more different districts in California, with Becerra entirely within Los Angeles and Thompson, a former vineyard owner, representing parts of San Francisco stretching up into Northern California.
Politically, the men fall within the centrist spectrum populated by previous Obama nominees. Becerra is not reflexively pro-trade, having voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement but later against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, so he may bring a moderate outlook to the top trade position in the federal government. Democrats are clearly not ready to accelerate any of the pending free trade agreements, and Becerra’s CAFTA opposition may be a signal to the international trade community about where an Obama administration is headed on this issue.
Thompson is a moderate Blue Dog Democrat. Both Becerra and Thompson hold seats on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and Becerra was recently elected as caucus vice chair.
Becerra’s exit would reopen the fight for the leadership post that he recently won. Becerra beat out Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) in a landslide caucus vote. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) elected not to run for the position, but has been a high profile Democratic Party spokeswoman in recent months with frequent television appearances, and may have designs on higher leadership posts in the near future.
Democratic California Reps. George Miller and Anna Eshoo have been lobbying on behalf of Thompson for the cabinet post, arguing in a letter to the Obama transition team, first reported by the AP, that Thompson’s experience as a vintner and hunter, ideally suit him to the Interior position. Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, has also been under discussion for secretary of Interior.