SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The public and private jockeying to be California's next attorney general is intensifying as Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday he's “very close" to making a decision on who he will name to the coveted job.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents Newsom's hometown of San Francisco, has thrown support behind Congressman Adam Schiff, according to a person close to Newsom who says Pelosi and her allies have been calling the governor's inner political circle to urge he choose the 11-term Los Angeles-area Democrat. The person is not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It's a powerful nod of support for Schiff, who does not have much of a personal relationship with Newsom. Pelosi and Schiff are closely aligned. She tapped him to lead the House's first impeachment case against then-President Donald Trump.
Other candidates lobbying for or under consideration for the job include state Assemblyman Rob Bonta; Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg; state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu; Equality California director Rick Zbur; and Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton.
The job is expected to open soon because President Joe Biden has nominated Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services. Newsom said he will make his announcement public once Becerra is confirmed by the Senate, which is likely to happen with Democrats in control of the Senate.
“We hope that happens sooner — I certainly do — than later," Newsom said during a news conference in Oakland on the state's vaccine distribution plan.
He joked about the large number of people interested in the job, saying at least five possible candidates were in the group of elected officials standing behind him. Bonta was among them.
“We can make this like a reality TV show — you can ask them some tough questions and we'll see how they perform," he told reporters.
But Newsom is largely keeping the deliberation process to himself. He's likely looking for someone who shares his governing and political philosophy and can be a partner; he and Becerra did not have a close relationship. He's also sure to consider a choice who can easily raise money and win reelection in 2022, when Newsom will also be up for reelection if he survives a recall attempt this year.
The job of attorney general is among the highest profile in California, second only to governor in terms of public recognition and overall power. It has also been a stepping stone to higher office. Vice President Kamala Harris was attorney general from 2010 to 2016, and her successful Senate bid opened the job for Becerra's appointment. Before her, Jerry Brown held the job and then was elected governor.
Becerra made a name for himself by filing dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration. With Biden in the White House, the state's relationship with Washington won't be so antagonistic. But the job provides an opportunity to weigh in on everything from criminal justice reform to environmental policy and gun control.
It's Newsom's third high-profile appointment since Biden and Harris won. He chose former Secretary of State Alex Padilla for Harris' vacated Senate seat and tapped state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to replace Padilla as secretary of state.
Schiff saw his profile rise during the Trump administration as he led the House Intelligence Committee that looked into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He was the face of the House prosecution team during Trump's first impeachment.
Axios first reported Pelosi's support for Schiff. A person familiar with Schiff's thinking who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly confirmed he is interested in the job.
Schiff declined to comment Wednesday. A spokesman for Pelosi did not immediately return a request for comment.
Bonta, who represents Oakland in the Assembly, has made a public play for the job, He has rolled out a list of high-profile endorsements including criminal and environmental justice advocates, labor groups and immigration reform advocates. Bonta, who is Filipino, also has the backing of prominent Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups.
Elsewhere, advocates for Liu, the state Supreme Court justice, have penned newspaper opinion pieces on his behalf. Zbur of Equality California, who practicing lawyer for decades with a focus on environmental law, has the backing of several LGBTQ rights groups. Steinberg, the Sacramento mayor and former leader of the state Senate, is making private appeals to Newsom and his inner circle. Steinberg has a long and close relationship with Newsom, which could be an asset as Newsom faces a potential recall.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed.