Rep. Xavier Becerra, who rose through the hierarchy of the U.S. House to become the highest ranking Hispanic in Congress and was considered as a potential running mate to Hillary Clinton, has accepted a nomination to take over as California's attorney general.
Becerra, a California Democrat, must step down at the end of this year as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a position he was elected to by fellow House members. The job is term limited.
California Gov. Jerry Brown announced Thursday he had chosen Becerra to take over as attorney general after the departure of Kamala Harris, who won election to the U.S. Senate in November. As attorney general, Becerra will be the state's top lawyer and law enforcement official.
"I will miss Congress, the good the bad and the ugly," Becerra said. "But it's a privilege to get to serve."
Becerra's nomination must be confirmed by California's state lawmakers. If seated, he would be the state's first Latino attorney general.
Becerra, joined Congress in 1993 when Bill Clinton was entering the Oval Office. The son of a Mexican immigrant mother an U.S. citizen father who moved between the U.S. and Mexico, he is a former California state legislator and served as its deputy attorney general.
In Congress, he served on the House Ways and Means Committee and expressed interest in being elected its ranking member. He was the first Latino to serve on the powerful committee.
He said in an interview with NBC News that he was preparing for the next session of Congress and the next administration when he was told of the nomination. He said he was excited by the chance to "defend" and "advocate for" California's 38 million residents.
"Gov. 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."
"I have accepted Gov. Brown's nomination," he said.
Asked about the effect of his departure on Hispanic leadership in Congress, Becerra mentioned the new Latinos elected to Congress and the election of Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., to vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
"I think we have to be ready to take on leadership whenever presents itself," Becerra said. "I'm always on my toes, because you never know when the window will be open, because you have to be ready to jump."
Becerra's return to California sets up a potential future run for governor or for the U.S. Senate, should Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose term is up in 2018, decide to retire. Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa already has announced a bid for governor. Brown's term ends in 2018.
Becerra wouldn't divulge his political plans beyond seeking confirmation.
"I'm still processing that I'm no longer going to be serving in Congress," he said.
More immediately, if confirmed for the attorney general spot as expected, Becerra will join Secretary of State Alex Padilla in the executive ranks of California's state government. In addition, the California Assembly is led by Anthony Rendon and the state Senate by Kevin de León.
California leads the nation in the number of residents who are Latino.