Rep. Xavier Becerra announced Thursday he would be leaving Congress to serve as California’s attorney general, a move that takes the senior Democrat out of Washington but not off the front lines of the battle against the Trump administration.
California Gov. Jerry Brown named Becerra to the spot Thursday opened up by the departure of Kamala Harris, who won a US Senate seat this November. Becerra will need to be confirmed by California’s Legislature and the nomination will be made official once Harris resigns.
Becerra is the highest-ranking Latino politician in the Democratic party and serves as the No. 4 House Democrat, as chairman of the party’s caucus, though he was term-limited out of that position next Congress.
While the move will take Becerra, 58, out of congressional leadership, it also sets him up to be a major voice against the Trump administration.
Becerra was term-limited as chairman of the caucus and had no obvious path to advancing through the leadership ranks as the top three ranking Democrats, Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, were all maintaining their spots atop the party.
He had been rumored as a possible vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton, in part because of his strong voice in Hispanic outreach for Democrats.
He was a fierce opponent of President-elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail — especially for his anti-immigration rhetoric and comments about Mexicans during the campaign, including using the term “rapists,” and questioning the impartiality of a federal judge due to his Mexican heritage.
He said he could not turn down the offer from Brown.
“Governor Brown has presented me with an opportunity I cannot refuse — to serve as Attorney General of my home state,” Becerra said in a statement. “As a former deputy attorney general, I relished the chance to be our state’s chief law enforcement officer to protect consumers, advance criminal justice reform and, of course, keep our families safe.”
“Donald Trump is saying that a respected jurist who was confirmed by a bipartisan vote in the Senate is incapable of serving because of his Mexican heritage,” Becerra told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” in early June. “I think that’s racist. We should call it that.”
As California’s attorney general, Becerra will be poised to fight the Trump administration on a host of hot-button issues, including immigration and climate change.
A deeply blue state, California is a key player in both debates, and would likely oppose the Trump administration on hard-line deportation or anti-immigration policies as well as rolling back regulations designed to fight climate change.
The post was a launching pad for Harris, who parlayed her high profile role into a Senate seat this fall and has been a rising star within the Democratic Party.
Brown lauded Becerra in a statement and especially highlighted his ability to work on climate change.
“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”