Democrats Choose Jeffries to Succeed Pelosi as Party Leader in a Historic Vote
House Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) to lead the party next year, signalling a generational shift after 20 years under the leadership of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and making Jeffries the nation’s first Black figure to lead either party in Congress.
The change came as no surprise. After Pelosi and her top deputies announced earlier this month that they would step down from the top three leadership positions, Jeffries, 52, was one of three next-generation leaders who quickly swept in to solidify their position as uncontested contenders for the party’s top positions.
Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) were also elected to new leadership positions on Wednesday. Clark will succeed Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as the second-ranking Democrat next year, while Aguilar will fill the No. 3 spot left vacant by Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.).
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to reporters during a press conference on the results of the House Democratic leadership election for the top three positions on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.
Because none of the new top leaders faced a challenger, the proceedings on Wednesday felt more like a coronation than an election. But that didn’t dampen Democrats’ joy, who welcomed the replacement of one historical figure in Pelosi with another in Jeffries.
Pelosi wasted no time in congratulating all three new leaders as the energetic face of the party’s future.
“Together, this new generation of leaders reflects the vibrancy and diversity of our great nation — and they will reinvigorate our caucus with their new energy, ideas, and perspective,” said Speaker John Boehner.
Jeffries, for one, insists he hasn’t had much time to reflect on the historic significance of his leadership role, instead focusing on the Democrats’ transition to the minority and “the solemn responsibility” he’s about to take on.
“The best thing we can do as a result of the seriousness and solemnity of the moment is lean in hard and do the best damn job we can for people,” he told a small group of Capitol Hill reporters Tuesday night.
Other Democrats aren’t so modest, particularly those in the Congressional Black Caucus, where Jeffries’ rise is being celebrated as another major 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 people of colour 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 colour, 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 the 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 nearly two decades before moving 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 said.
Schumer, for one, is excited about the collaboration.
“I can’t wait to talk to my Brooklyn neighbour four or six times a day like I did with Speaker Pelosi,” the Senate majority leader said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) speaks to reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, to discuss the results of the Democratic leadership election for the top three positions in the House.
Jeffries, who was first elected in 2012, rose quickly through the ranks, taking over as caucus chair in 2019, just as Democrats took control of the lower chamber.
Clark has been with him since then, and Aguilar joined them as caucus vice chair two years ago, putting the trio in a strong position to take over the party when the “big three” — Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn — step down.
Clyburn, on the other hand, is still aiming for the No. 4 spot next year. And, in an unexpected move, he found himself with a challenger on Wednesday when Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) entered the race late.
Clyburn, a Black Caucus member who has held the third-ranking leadership position since 2006, says he wants to stay in the top ranks to provide representation for the South at the leadership table.
Cicilline, a co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, countered that the gay community needed a voice, especially after two LGBTQ+ members of Democratic leadership — Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.) and Mondaine Jones (N.Y.) — lost reelection bids this month.
The vote to decide the Clyburn-Cicilline race is scheduled for Thursday.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to reporters after a press conference on the results of the House Democratic leadership election for the top three positions on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.
Democrats also elected Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) to serve as vice chair of the caucus next year, as well as an internal rule change that will remove the power from the full caucus to choose their chief campaign strategist, instead putting that decision in the hands of party leaders.
That means Jeffries, as party leader, will be responsible for appointing the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) ahead of the 2024 elections, though he has declined to say when.
Reps. Ami Bera and Tony Cardenas of California are vying for the position.
The leadership votes this week came after a midterm election cycle in which Democrats lost control of the House but performed much better than polls and pundits predicted, leaving Republicans with a slim majority in the next Congress — and plenty of headaches for GOP leaders trying to rally their restive conference behind the party’s priorities.
Jeffries has been harshly critical of House Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), especially after the GOP leader embraced former President Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol.
However, as he prepared to be voted into the top leadership position this week, Jeffries downplayed those tensions, saying he is ready to work with any Republicans who are serious about helping the country.
“Certainly, I have more interaction with the incoming Republican majority leader, Steve Scalise,” he said late Tuesday. “However, keep an open mind about engaging with Kevin McCarthy — for the sake of the country.”
Jeffries announced his candidacy for Democratic leader one day after Pelosi announced, in a highly anticipated speech from the House floor, that she would not seek a leadership position 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, announced that they would not seek re-election to the caucus’ top positions, paving the way for a new generation of Democrats to lead the party.
“At our best, Democrats fight for the people,” Jeffries said after his election. “That’s not a catchphrase; it’s a way of life, and we’re only getting started.”