You might have missed the news this past week that Rep. Xavier Becerra will leave Congress to become California’s attorney general. Becerra wasn’t the highest-profile member of Congress. But his departure is a piece of a broader exodus of Democratic House members once regarded as the next leaders of the party in Washington.
For Becerra, the move makes sense. His stock in Washington had fallen somewhat in recent months, and with Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s reelection as minority leader last week — and the retention of the two other top leaders for House Democrats — it would be at least two years before Becerra could move up the leadership ladder. Now he will be positioned to run for a statewide office (governor in 2022 or 2026, Senate in 2018) or be plucked by the next Democratic president as a Cabinet pick. Plus, he is being appointed to the job by Gov. Jerry Brown, meaning that he will run as an incumbent in 2018. (The job is open because Kamala Harris won election to the Senate last month.)
But for the Democratic Party in Washington, Becerra’s decision is part of a troubling trend: young, ambitious lawmakers either falling by the wayside or giving up on the House entirely. Consider the fates of the handful of Democratic legislators seen, as recently as a few years ago, as the next generation of House speakers:
- ●Becerra (Calif.): appointed California attorney general.
- ●Chris Van Hollen (Md.): won an open Senate seat in last month’s election.
- ●Steve Israel (N.Y.): retiring from Congress this year.
- ●Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.): removed as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
It’s remarkable. An entire generation of Democratic leaders in Washington has been washed away — and the generation younger than the Van Hollens and Israels of the country looks too young right now to step up and fill the leadership vacuum. (Names on that list include the likes of Reps. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.)