House Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to lead the party in the next Congress on Wednesday, signaling a generational shift after 20 years under the leadership of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and making Jeffries the first Black figure to lead either party in Congress in the country’s history.
The change came as no surprise. Jeffries was one of three next-generation leaders who immediately surged in to establish their place as uncontested contenders atop the party brass after Pelosi and her top deputies declared earlier this month that they would walk out of the top three leadership positions next year.
Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) were also elected to new leadership posts on Wednesday. Clark will take over as the second-ranking Democrat next year, replacing Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md. ), while Aguilar will fill the gap left by Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.).
Because none of the new leaders faced a challenger, the procedures on Wednesday felt more like a coronation than an election.
Democrats’ jubilant tone was unaffected by this.
Jeffries, for one, claims he hasn’t had much time to ponder on the historic significance of his leadership post, instead focusing on the Democrats’ shift to the minority and “the solemn responsibility” he’s about to take on.
“The best thing we can do in light of the gravity and solemnity of the situation is lean in hard and do the best damn job we can for people,” he said.
Other Democrats aren’t so humble, particularly those in the Congressional Black Caucus, where Jeffries’ rise is being celebrated as another important step forward in the long and difficult fight for civil rights.
“It sends a message to this country as an African American that it’s time for true diversity and inclusion.” And there are so many individuals of color who are capable, competent, and capable of leading,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a 32-year veteran and powerful member of the Black Caucus. “This will be a great role model for people of color, and for Black people and young Black boys to be able to aspire to such a position.”
With Jeffries’ election, Democrats will have a Brooklyn native leading both the House and the Senate, where Charles Schumer (D-NY) is expected to retain his majority after Democrats maintained their upper-chamber majority in the midterm elections.
Jeffries stated that he has a “great relationship” with Schumer, who served in the House for over two decades before heading to the Senate. When asked if he is pleased that Brooklyn is so well represented in Congress, Jeffries was evasive.
“There’s a lot of excitement about that in Brooklyn,” he remarked.
Schumer, for one, is excited about the collaboration.
“I can’t wait to talk to my Brooklyn neighbor four or six times a day like I did with Speaker Pelosi,” the Senate majority leader remarked on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
The votes came after a midterm cycle in which Democrats lost control of the House but fared much better than polls and pundits predicted, leaving Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the next Congress — and causing plenty of headaches for GOP leaders trying to rally their fractured conference behind the party’s priorities.
Jeffries announced his candidacy for Democratic leader one day after Pelosi revealed, in a widely anticipated address from the House floor, that she would not pursue a leadership post in the next Congress, effectively ending her historic, two-decade reign at the top of the Democratic caucus.
Shortly after, the Speaker’s two lieutenants, Hoyer and Clyburn, declared that they would not seek re-election to the caucus’ top positions, paving the way for a new generation of Democrats to head the party.
Jeffries has long been regarded as Pelosi’s successor. Since arriving in Washington in 2013, the Brooklyn Democrat has quickly risen through the ranks, becoming co-head of the caucus’ messaging arm and, later, chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
He narrowly defeated Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) for party chair in a close battle in 2018, placing him on the route to leadership that is only now beginning to take shape.
Shortly after Jeffries announced his candidacy, the Democratic caucus’ “big three” endorsed him to lead the party in the House. Hoyer praised him as “an effective and historic champion,” while Clyburn praised the New York Democrat before he announced his candidacy.
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