WASHINGTON (CNN) - An aide to Rep. Xavier Becerra and a Democratic leadership aide both say a key reason he turned down the job of U.S. Trade Representative is because trade is simply not a top priority for the country right now, and Becerra felt that he would be better off staying in the House where he can deal with a broader range of issues such as health care and immigration.
The Democratic leadership aide said that another factor is that Becerra is a relatively young and a member of the Democratic leadership with real potential to rise higher in the House Democratic ranks, and didn’t want to get off that track for a narrowly focused, relatively low profile job as USTR.
It is noteworthy that a Democratic member of Congress was actually offered a post in the Obama administration and turned it down in a public way.
Becerra also did an interview with editorial board of La Opinion where he raised concerns about how much influence the position would have. "My worry [was] how much weight this position would hold, and I came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be priority number one, and it might not be number to or three," he was quoted as saying.
Earlier Wednesday, Becerra released a statement saying he was eager to work alongside Barack Obama in the Congress.
(CNN) - A new poll out Wednesday suggests there is no clear favorite among New Yorkers on who they think should replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate - and despite the buzz over Caroline Kennedy, the soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat is not necessarily hers for the taking.
According to a new survey from Siena College, 26 percent of New York voters and 30 percent of New York Democrats favor another potential pick with a famous last name - current New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, the son of former governor Mario Cuomo.
Some 23 percent of New York voters - and 28 percent of Democrats - want Kennedy to get the post. Nearly one in five preferred one of the othe Democrats often mentioned for the post, and another one in five had no preference for their next U.S. Senator.
The top two potential choices also have nearly identical favorability ratings - 58-21 percent for Kennedy and 59-24 percent for Cuomo.
"Both Kennedy and Cuomo have high name recognition among New Yorkers, and Cuomo has run for - and won - statewide office, which may help him marginally," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Since the poll was done before Kennedy's officially announced her interest in the Senate seat, it's possible her support today is a little higher than it was before her announcement. But ultimately, the choice will be made by the Governor, not the voters of New York."
But while New Yorkers may be roughly divided on who they think should be named to the post, 31 percent believe Gov. David Paterson will ultimately pick Kennedy compared to the 16 percent who say Cuomo will get it.
(CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony will feature big names like minister Rick Warren and legendary singer Aretha Franklin, the Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced Wednesday.
Warren, the prominent evangelical and founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, will deliver the ceremony's invocation. The minister hosted a presidential forum at his church last summer that challenged both Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain on a host of faith-related issues. Warren did not endorse either presidential candidate.
His public support for California's Proposition 8 - the measure that successfully passed and called for outlawing gay marriage in the state - sparked the ire of many gay rights proponents, who seized on a comment in an October newsletter to his congregation: "This is not a political issue - it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."
But Warren has long sought to broaden the focus of the evangelical agenda to include issues like the reduction of global poverty, human rights abuses, and the AIDS epidemic.
Also included in the inaugural program are cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the United States Marine Band, and other performers.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Sam Brownback will announce Thursday he is retiring from the Senate when his term ends in 2010, allowing the Kansas Republican to explore a run for governor.
He will be the second GOP senator this year to publicly state he is leaving at the close of the 111th Congress.
Brownback, who unsuccessfully sought the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, will not reveal his future political plans during the three news conferences planned for Thursday in Kansas. But a source close to Brownback said he will file gubernatorial paperwork in January.
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday announced former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as his choice for agriculture secretary and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as his choice for secretary of the interior.
"Together they will serve as guardians of the American landscape on which the health of our economy and the well-being of our families so heavily depend," Obama said at a news conference in Chicago.
Vilsack was a high-profile supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries after he briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination.
Vilsack has championed the development of ethanol, an alternative energy, in Iowa - something that coincides with Obama's vision for an energy-independent future, and something he can promote from the Department of Agriculture.
(CNN) - Rep. Xavier Becerra, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for U.S. trade representative, pulled himself out of the running Tuesday.
In a statement released by his office, the California Democrat said he's more interested in working alongside Obama from his seat in the Congress.
"I am grateful for that privilege and now see a rare opportunity to push across the goal line much of the unfinished business of America: investing in our infrastructure and our workers, universal healthcare, comprehensive immigration reform, and scrubbing a tax code that’s out of shape and behind the times," he said in the statement.
“Working for and with incoming President Barack Obama would be an opportunity of a lifetime. I will get to experience that thrill… by working by his side in the People’s House just down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
Democratic sources told CNN earlier this week that Obama had formally offered Becerra the position.
But Becerra told La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper, that he felt trade would not be a major focus in the Obama administration.
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) - Their self-imposed deadline was this Friday. But the panel weighing disputed ballots in the year's lone unresolved Senate race now faces an end date as uncertain as that vote's outcome.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and the four other members of the state's canvassing board resumed their deliberation over challenged ballots Wednesday morning, as the race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken remains too close to call.
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Wednesday that he "can't wait to begin to tell his side of the story."
In the week since Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges, there have been repeated calls for his resignation.
Although Blagojevich, 52, has not commented publicly on the charges, his lawyer Ed Genson said the governor had done nothing wrong and does not intend to step down.
"I can't wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and most importantly the people of Illinois. That's who I'm dying to talk to," Blagojevich told reporters gathered outside his home.
"There's a time and place for everything. That day will soon be here, and you might know more about that today, maybe no later than tomorrow."
Asked what it is he wants to say, Blagojevich told the reporters to "hang loose."
Members of an Illinois House of Representatives panel met Tuesday to determine whether there is a basis to impeach Blagojevich.
(CNN) - Alleged Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff has been a major political donor, directing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic lawmakers over the past two decades.
Since 1991, Madoff and other individuals connected with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities made campaign contributions totaling $372,100, with about 89 percent of those funds directed to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.org, the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics. The majority of the senators and representatives who benefited from these donations were New York-area legislators.
In 2008, Madoff contributed $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, pushing his total donations to the group since 1992 over the six-figure mark.
In one of the craziest elections in American history, he overcame a lack of experience, a funny name, two candidates who are political institutions and the racial divide to become the 44th president of the United States.