Published on June 28, 2016
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<strong>California’s Becerra is among the most qualified of potential Veep selections</strong>
With exactly one month to go before the Democratic National Convention gavels to order in Philadelphia, the speculation about whom Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee will tap as her running-mate will soon skyrocket to a fever-pitch. While I have yet to reach a final conclusion on who would ultimately be the soundest choice for Mrs. Clinton, my “short-short” list (in other words the people my top two) would without include Congressman Xavier Becerra of California. The other contender would be Virginia Senator (and former Governor) Tim Kaine whom I will preview shortly.But for now, allow me to state my case for Mr. Becerra.
Becerra 58, is not particularly well-known outside of Hispanic circles, but that is hardly a determining factor in a year like this. The selection of a number two is about complimenting the head of the ticket. A geographic balance is anachronistic. While once critical, if not pivotal (John F. Kennedy could not have won Texas had Lyndon Johnson not been on the ticket) most undecided voters are not decisively moved enough to be wooed by the fact that a person from their home-state is on their ticket. Instead, the prime motivator for a Presidential nominee so far as this is concerned is to fill in other gaps. Barack Obama picked Joe Biden because of his durability and tremendous stature on the foreign affairs stage. Mitt Romney tapped Paul Ryan because of his boldness and his respect among conservatives. John McCain went with Sarah Palin because – well, only he knows why (he might have been hoping for the female vote but not much else). With that in mind, perhaps the strongest number two pick I can see for Hillary Clinton is Becerra. The respect he commands and his many versatilities on a wide range of issues make him an obvious choice to step into Biden’s shoes.
It’s worth noting that history does not suggest Becerra will emerge the pick. Before Ryan, the last House member to be tapped as a running-mate was Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. Prior to that, it was William E. Miller of New York, who was chosen by Barry Goldwater in 1964. But though Becerra and Ryan are ideological opposites, they are similar in stature within their respective caucuses. Becerra has served in the chamber for nearly a quarter of a century and has often been promoted for leadership roles (he currently serves as Democratic Caucus Chair). Many expect he’ll go significantly higher and his charismatic speaking ability does little to quash those bets. The expectation has been that when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi retires, Becerra would be a strong candidate to succeed her or ascend to the position of Minority Whip (or Majority Whip should Democrats regain the House). Becerra himself alluded to that prospect by recently telling reporters that if Clinton were to win, he “would be looking forward to working with her as a member of Congress, hopefully in a leadership position,” He also has an international pedigree. In 2008, after Barack Obama won the Presidency, Becerra was reportedly offered the job of U.S. Trade Secretary but ultimately opted to stay in the House.
Nevertheless, Becerra brings two assets to the table that can’t be overlooked – his ethnicity and his stance as a loyal progressive.
The first is obvious. Becerra is Latino, the son of Mexican immigrants who epitomize the up by the bootstraps story. Many feel that picking a Latino, if not only for symbolic reasons, is imperative in light of Donald Trump’s proposed “wall.” Becerra has earned wide acclaim for surrogating for Mrs. Clinton in a number of states to the point that <em>The New York Times</em> in a recent profile noted that in being “recognizable to millions of viewers (of Spanish television), he has become the most prominent and outspoken advocate of Mrs. Clinton to a constituency she hopes to win over in huge numbers to capture the White House.” He calls the election “personal, very personal,” imploring his audiences to “get out there. I’ve got to get out there, because they are talking about us.” It’s not unusual for the words “about us” to often make it into his tweets about the election.
The demographic also has a notoriously poor turnout rate and many believe a Becerra move would allow Mrs. Clinton to run up the score in states where the Latino population is large, including Florida, Colorado, Nevada and potentially Arizona. In a piece for <em>The Hill</em>, Brent Budowski wrote “Becerra would champion a faith-based progressivism in the age of Pope Francis, with whom he shares a passion for social justice and income equality that provides a powerful appeal to Catholic and working-class voters transcending religion, ethnicity and gender” (Becerra is a devout Catholic who was at the Vatican for the canonization of Pope John Paul II).
The other feather in Becerra’s cap, at least as far as camp Clinton should be concerned is the affection for the esteem for which he is held among working-class groups. He is a progressive, a member of the House Progressive Caucus, who served as a loyal if not fierce backer of Mrs. Clinton’s during her primary contest with Mr. Sanders. While most analysts believe progressive voters, who by and large supported Sanders for the nomination, will come home at the end of the day – particularly against Donald Trump, others feel she needs to offer them a carrot in order to guarantee it. Becerra would fit that bill almost to a tee.
That’s not to say Becerra has had an unlimited honeymoon with progressives or fellow Latinos. He has backed free-trade agreements (including with Peru and Chile and enforcing the U.S-Australia Trade agreement). to the consternation of unions but has been vocal in recent years by coming out against them until the “self-enforcement” of fairness provisions could be assured. In a 2015 speech on the House floor urging rejection of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), he declared, “The countries themselves that want to trade with us are cheating by manipulating their currency to make the value of their goods look less expensive than American products in the same area. Are we supposed to depend on those same countries that are cheating to now enforce the rules against companies that are also cheating?” He did drive a wedge between himself and other Hispanic members of Congress by meeting with Fidel Castro in 1997. But his strengths tower over the minuses.
By contrast, the other Latino who is by all accounts atop Clinton’s short list – Housing Secretary and former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, has encountered troubled waters within the progressive movement, though backers have gone out of his way to promote his more liberal credentials. And while Castro’s presence on the ticket would certainly get more Latinos to the polls in the “Lone Star” State, it is highly, highly unlikely that it would be enough to turn Texas blue. While California lacks a snowball’s chance of going red even without Becerra, I return to my original point that it’s a national election so national factors must come into play when picking a Veep (Becerra also has more of a pedigree in foreign affairs than Castro). Thus, national factors must be at work. And the other progressive most identified with progressivism, Elizabeth Warren, while second to no one as far as energizing the base, is far too green to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
Which is why Xavier Becerra’s future goes far beyond the 34th Congressional District of California. Whether that means the Number One Observatory Circle and the Vice-President’s residence remains to be seen. But he might just be a pick that’s too good to ignore.