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Jockeying For Junior Leadership Post Underway

The same members of Congress who’d been positioning themselves for vice chair leading up to a recent election are still interested now that the winner of that contest, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), may be stepping aside to become U.S. Trade Representative, Congressional aides said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is “considering a run for vice chair,” said spokesman Jonathan Beeton. A source close to Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said that he is interested in running for the spot as well.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has spoken to both of them, according to a Democratic insider, and is close to both of them, putting him in a difficult spot. He supported Crowley in a previous leadership race against now-caucus-chairman Rep. John Larson (Conn.). Wasserman Schultz, however, backed Hoyer in his race against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader in 2004.

Becerra would not have been the first choice of moderate Democrats for U.S. Trade Representative, but they’d be happy to see him land it.

That would give them the chance to have one of their own capture the Los Angeles Democrat’s leadership post.

The centrist Democrats who make up the New Democrat Coalition in the House had rallied behind Crowley for the spot in November, but Crowley decided against running – and backed Becerra – once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that she wanted the Los Angeles Democrat, to whom she is close.

The New Dems see the opening Becerra would leave behind as a nice silver lining – but the generally pro-trade group isn’t all that disappointed by the reports that President-elect Barack Obama has offered the USTR job to Becerra, either.

Pro-trade lawmakers, along with the business community, wanted someone with more experience on the trade front and a stronger pro-trade record. But Becerra has supported trade agreements in the past – most recently the Peru trade pact cleared by Congress last December – and he brings important political ties on Capitol Hill, which will be central to any plans Obama may have to make progress on trade policy.

“While the news surprised some moderate members, Becerra is pragmatic, smart and credible with all sides in the trade debate and that’s what you need in a USTR,” said a Democratic aide.

While far from a sure thing, a Crowley win on the vice chair post would lend heft to the New Dems’ influence (Crowley is the group’s whip).

They’re already positioned to be a strong voice in the 111th Congress: 15 of the 20 House seats Democrats picked up Nov. 4 were won by moderates backed by the New Dems and who have since joined the group.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was a New Dem and is expected to provide an open line of communication for his former New Dem colleagues. Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), recently elected as a vice chair of the group, is a longtime ally and friend of Obama; she served as Obama’s super delegate whip during the primary and as national co-chair of his voter registration drive.

The economy-focused New Dems also see an advantage in the fact that Obama’s economic team includes allies from the Clinton era, a period when the New Dems enjoyed a prominent policy role.

Victoria McGrane contributed heavily to this post; Glenn Thrush, Amie Parnes and John Bresnahan also contributed.

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