Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., was unanimously elected on Wednesday as the next leader of the House Democratic Caucus. The 52-year-old Brooklyn native, who succeeds 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will be the first Black and first nonwhite party leader in Congress.
He will be joined in new leadership roles by 59-year-old Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass, who is replacing 83-year-old Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as the second-ranking Democrat; and 43-year-old Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., who is replacing 82-year-old Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., as the third-ranking Democrat and incoming caucus chairman.
It will be the first time that there will be no white men in leadership for a major party in Congress. Clark will become the second woman ever to hold the whip position after Pelosi. Aguilar is of Mexican descent and is now the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill, Jeffries thanked the outgoing leadership.
“From the very beginning of our arrival in the Congress, we stand on their collective broad shoulders building upon the incredible work that they’ve done, excited about the opportunities to advance the ball for everyday Americans as we move forward into our future,” Jeffries said.
He also lauded Pelosi as a “speaker for the ages who has delivered so much for so many.”
“Our country is better, the world is better because of speaker Nancy,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries has served as the U.S. representative for New York’s Eighth Congressional District since 2013. He was previously a member of the state Assembly. Jeffries cruised to reelection in the midterm earlier this month, easily defeating Republican challenger Yuri Dashevsky with 72.4% of the vote.
He avoided the fate of other members of New York’s Democratic caucus, which lost four congressional seats — including the one held by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Democratic campaign chairman, charged with protecting his party’s hold on Congress.
Those losses in an overwhelmingly Democratic state stood out in an election in which the party outperformed expectations in both House and Senate races nationally.
Jeffries has held prominent positions on Capitol Hill. In 2018 he defeated Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to become chair of the House Democratic Caucus, making him the fifth-ranking member of the Democratic leadership in the chamber.
In 2020, Jeffries was selected by Pelosi to serve as one of seven House managers to present the impeachment case against then-President Donald Trump during his first impeachment trial before the Senate.
Earlier this month, the top three ranking Democrats in the House — Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn — announced they would relinquish their leadership roles after Republicans clinched majority control of the chamber, opening the door for new leadership of the Democratic caucus.
Clyburn said he still intends to run for the assistant leader position, which would make him the 4th-raking Democrat in the House. On Wednesday, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., announced a surprise bid for the same slot. Cicilline, who is gay, said the LGBTQ community deserves a leadership spot of its own, especially after the deadly shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
In 2002, Pelosi became the first woman elected as a party leader in Congress. In 2007, she became the first woman elected speaker of the House.
Jeffries calls himself a pragmatic progressive who shares Pelosi’s willingness to embrace more moderate members. “I’m a Nancy Pelosi Democrat,” he told Yahoo News in 2020.
But the Democratic establishment has garnered criticism from the party’s left wing. Shortly after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was elected in 2018, a group closely allied with the congresswoman discussed recruiting a primary challenger to run against Jeffries.
At the time, he responded to the potential of a primary threat with a quote from his favorite rapper, Brooklyn’s Notorious B.I.G.
“Spread love,” Jeffries said. “It’s the Brooklyn way.”
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