Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, won a close vote Wednesday to be the first woman of color elected to a leadership position in a caucus in the U.S. Congress.
A California Democrat, Sanchez was elected vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, ensuring Latinos maintain a spot in the leadership of the next congressional session, although at a lower position than since 2013. Rep. Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus is reaching the end of his term limit.
Sanchez won the spot by two votes, 98-96, over Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, who is African American.
"This is your leadership team for the incoming Congress. We have a lot of work to do. We're ready to pick up the tools, roll up the sleeves and get to work," Sanchez said. She emphasized her background as a working mother and the difficulty of balancing family life with work.
"We hope to make that a little bit easier for America's working families moving forward," she said, following the message expressed by the rest of the Democratic leadership that the party would defend working American families.
A loss by Sanchez would have meant no Latino in the leadership's top ranks of the House. The start of a new session will means shifts in other spots. Becerra is vying to be the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee that oversees tax writing, an issue that President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on and is sure to be a fierce battleground.
Sanchez secured the leadership post as Pelosi faced a serious challenge from Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan following the November election in which Democrats gained just six seats.
Sanchez took over as the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2015. Sanchez has been in Congress since 2003.
At 47, she is one the younger members of the leadership team. She serves on the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Ethics Committee. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she is one of seven children and serves in Congress with her sister, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.
The current ranking member, Carl Levin has stepped aside. Becerra also faces competition for the job. He faces Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. for the position.
"While these positions in Washington are not well noted in the broader community, within political leadership circles, they are considered very important in order to show we have this ability to lead this country on issues like taxes and reforming the tax code," said Larry Gonzalez, a Democratic strategist and lobbyist with the Washington, D.C.-based Raben Group.