Rep. Hakeem Jeffries elected leader of House Democrats

Updated November 30, 2022 at 12:12 p.m. ET

The House Democratic Caucus has Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y. to conduct their caucus.

As minority leader of the House of Representatives, Jeffries will be the first black person to lead a major political party in Congress. He is among a new list of leaders elected Wednesday to lead House Democrats in the next session of Congress, including Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., as Jeffries’ No. 2, and Rep. Pete Aguilar , D-Calif., as third place finisher.

Jeffries, 52, who ran unopposed, is 30 years younger than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi announced earlier this month that she would remain in Congress but not run for the leadership post she has held at the helm of the Democratic faction for nearly two decades after Republicans won a razor-thin majority in the 2022 midterm elections.

Praising the leadership team following Wednesday’s caucus elections, Pelosi said the new leaders would “reinvigorate our caucus with their renewed energy, ideas and perspective.”

Speaking to reporters the night before the caucus vote, Jeffries said he didn’t have time to think about the historic marker. Focusing on “the outside narratives or the grandeur of the moment” would deter his work planning for how the group may transition from the majority to its new minority stance in January, he said.

Jeffries added that it’s important that Congress “look like the American people.” He added: “When we, as diverse leaders, are given the opportunity to serve in meaningful positions, the most meaningful thing we can do in this area is to do incredibly good work – which will hopefully encourage others to consider public service.” and to allay concerns People who are skeptical may have doubts about every American’s ability to function successfully at the highest level.”

Clyburn calls leadership change an ‘evolution’

Rep. Jim Clyburn, DS.C., 82, who has served in the party leadership, said Tuesday night that the shift, in which the current roster of leaders steps aside to make way for a new generation, has been going on for several years in work be .

“I think it was pretty clear to everyone that Pelosi, [Rep. Steny] Hoyer and I would be out of the lead very soon, either between us or someone carried us out,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn called the low-drama leadership change that House Democrats made relatively quickly after a team that had been in power for about 15 years an “evolution.” Typically, coveted leadership positions rarely vacate, and hard-fought races can get personal as camps furiously work to secure votes in a race decided by a secret ballot.

“I’ve studied history long enough to know that evolutions are much better than revolutions,” Clyburn said. “And I think anyone watching his caucus, our caucus over the years, has been able to see the leadership evolving.”

The night before the leadership election, Jeffries told reporters that after the Democrats regained a majority in 2018, he, Clark and Aguilar talked about joining the leadership table and using the time to demonstrate they were up to the task , eventually ascend to leadership ladder.

A new generation is adopting a bottom-up leadership style

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., told NPR, “One thing I’ve learned from leadership is that you don’t get to pick your moment. The moment presents itself and it is up to you to decide how and when you will lead.” Crow said Jeffries has a “bottom-up leadership style,” adding, “One of his greatest strengths is to recognize the tremendous talent around him.”

Pelosi had a very narrow majority during that session of Congress, and disagreements between progressives and centrists often spilled over into the open, stalling action on top priorities. Leftists often wanted bolder policy proposals and more generous federal spending, while centrists advocated positions they espoused that were more in step with voters in the purple counties they represent and helped the party regain majority in 2018.

Jeffries told reporters there is “nothing more unifying than being in the majority,” and said he and his colleagues are determined to retake the Hammer in 2024.

He acknowledged that the caucus was “a big family and an enthusiastic family and sometimes a loud family.” In a veiled reference to the House GOP conference and her allegiance to former President Donald Trump, Jeffries added, “I would much rather be a coalition than a cult.”

A younger House Democrat, Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., who was elected in 2016, told NPR she’s excited about the big change in who will lead her party in the House of Representatives. Barragán pointed out that she and Jeffries come from similar backgrounds, with working-class parents.

“He understands what it’s like to be a person of color, the discrimination we face — as he likes to say, it’s about standing up for those left behind and for the people who don’t really call the table.” She said his style is to listen to the various factions within the caucus and said he has traveled extensively across the country visiting lawmakers in their districts.

Jeffries served as impeachment manager and lawmaker

Pelosi hired Jeffries as impeachment manager for the January 2020 Senate trial — a high-profile position for those who would be watching her case on national television. Crow was on the team and recounted a tense moment during the Senate process when a protester burst into the chamber during Jeffries’ presentation and it was unclear if he had a gun or was threatening lawmakers inside. As Capitol Police worked to remove the person, Crow looked up at Jeffries, who “stopped, he gathered himself, he quoted a Bible verse about how the Lord will protect his flock and stand by you.” And then he picked up right where he left off and finished presenting his case. It’s just an example of how he handles things and stays calm under pressure.

Jeffries also showed his Brooklyn roots during the trial when he responded to Trump’s attorney, who asked House impeachment executives why they were even there to advance their case. He quoted Biggie Smalls, the neighborhood rapper known as “The Notorious BIG,” as he ended his closing statement on the President’s abuse of power by saying, “And if you don’t know, now you know.”

Crow said this episode showed that Jeffries “knows where he’s going, but he also knows where he’s coming from.

Jeffries will remain “open-minded” in working with GOP leaders in the House of Representatives.

Jeffries said he was “open minded” about his relationship with House Republican chief Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., who was nominated to be speaker. McCarthy is still working to secure the votes he needs to be elected by the entire House. Jeffries said he has more experience with the new Majority Leader, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and said he would look for common ground. But he stressed that McCarthy has many members that Jeffries considers “extreme” and he is willing to oppose the GOP’s efforts to advance far-right policies.

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