Democrats Elect New Leader to Succeed Pelosi
Democrats Elect New Leader to Succeed Pelosi

By Joseph Lord

House Democrats on Nov. 30 voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the party’s top leader in the lower chamber.

Democrats gathered behind closed doors to elect their new leaders for the 118th Congress, after Pelosi, currently the House speaker, announced she would not seek a leadership position.

Democrats are projected to be in the minority starting in January 2023, when new members are being sworn in, after Republicans flipped key seats in the midterm elections. It will be the Democrats’ first time in the minority since 2019.

Democrats chose current caucus Chairman Jeffries for the top Democrat spot. He will become the first black man to serve in the top leadership role for either party or chamber.

Jeffries’ win comes as no surprise after the lawmaker received endorsements from Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (R-S.C.).

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters in Washington on March 9, 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Prior to the announcement of official results, several Democrats confirmed Jeffries’ election to the spot, which was reportedly unanimous.

Fellow New Yorker Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) congratulated Jeffries on his win during a speech on the Senate floor.

“Never before has an African American leader or any leader of color held the top position for either party in either chamber,” Schumer said.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), who during the 117th Congress has served under Jeffries as vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, also congratulated his erstwhile colleague in a Twitter post.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), second from right, walks with Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) in Washington on Nov. 17, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“I am so proud to serve alongside Hakeem in House Democratic Leadership,” Aguilar wrote. “For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of standing with him as he helped guide our Caucus through our significant legislative wins.

“He is a principled, steady hand at the wheel who always puts people over politics,” Aguilar continued. “His historic election is a victory for our Caucus and for the American people. I know he will work tirelessly to keep our diverse Caucus united as we work to deliver for our communities and take back the House in 2024.”

Jeffries announced that he would make a bid for the number one spot in a Nov. 18 letter to other Democrats (pdf).

“I hope to lead an effort that centers our communication strategy around the messaging principle that values unite, issues divide.”

Issues have indeed divided Democrats over the course of the 117th Congress, with feuds between the progressive and moderate wings of the party having broken out regularly.

“We must make sure that the perception of the Democratic brand matches up with the reality that we do in fact authentically share values that unite the Heartland, Urban America, Rural America, Suburban America, and Small Town America,” Jeffries wrote.

“This undertaking will not be easy. We must show up early and in unexpected places. It will require the involvement, creativity, and input of every single House Democrat to be successful. Together, we can make it happen.”

Jeffries concluded: “I am grateful for the confidence that you have placed in me as the Caucus Chair during such tumultuous times. Building upon my leadership experience and our shared journey, I look forward to creating a better future together for all Americans and humbly ask for your support.”

Generational Change

Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn—all 82 or 83—have been in power for years, with Pelosi becoming a senior party leader in 2003, Hoyer joining the year later, and Clyburn joining in 2007.

Younger Democrats have been agitating for change at the top. The caucus includes three of the five youngest members of Congress—including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.).

The average age of House Democrats is 59 years old according to data from FiscalNote, and tensions have grown among the generations in recent years.

Generational fractures between the party’s old guard and new Democrats first emerged as early as 2018, when Democrats extracted a pledge from Pelosi that she wouldn’t serve as speaker again. She later reneged on that promise and was reelected speaker in the 117th Congress.

Following the midterms, Pelosi announced that she would at long last step down from leadership, finally fulfilling a promise she made after the 2018 midterms to seek no further time in leadership.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), accompanied by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, (D-S.C.)(L) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 5, 2021. (Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo)

“Scripture teaches us that for everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven,” Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor in Washington. “For me, the hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect, and I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”

The announcement by Pelosi, 82, was followed by similar announcements from Hoyer, 83, and Clyburn, 82.

Hoyer will follow Pelosi’s lead in seeking no further time in leadership; Clyburn later announced that he would seek a lower position, contending that his voice in leadership was necessary to ensure the south has a voice in the caucus.

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