Hakeem Jeffries elected leader of the House of Representatives Democrats

Hakeem Jeffries elected leader of the House of Representatives Democrats

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Wednesday elected new leaders to take over from three octogenarians who have led them for two decades, kicking off a long-awaited generational change that, for the first time in the history of either party or chamber of Congress, has installed a trio of top leaders that does not include white people.

In the depiction of unity after by-elections in which they lost the House but had a stronger-than-expected showing, Democrats skipped the vote and elected Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York by acclamation as minority leader, making him the first black person to hold the top spot. Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts was chosen as whip, the leading vote counter for the House Democrats, and Representative Pete Aguilar of California was chosen as the chairman of the caucus, in charge of the exchange of messages.

Mr. Jeffries, 52, Ms. Clark, 59 and Mr. Aguilar, 43, who for years positioned himself as an unofficial joint slate of candidates and patiently waited their turn, ran unopposed for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who has led the party for two decades, announced this month she would move awaymaking way for fresher faces at the top of her party.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, considered trying to remain in charge and said he had support for it, but ultimately decided against it. And Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, weighed in challenge Mr. Jeffries for minority leader, but many Democrats said he lacked the votes. Last week, Mr. Schiff told Mr. Jeffries that he was exploring a Senate run instead, and wished him luck in the upcoming leadership election, according to a person briefed on the private conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The mood was upbeat Wednesday in an ornate committee hearing room across from the Capitol where Democrats met to choose their new leaders.

“We want Petey Pie!” the lawmakers chanted as they nominated Mr. Aguilar, using a nickname given to him by his grandmother, according to two people in the room.

At another point, Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama led chants of Mr. Jeffries, borrowing a line from the rapper Biggie Smalls, whom Mr. Jeffries famously quoted on the Senate floor during former President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial.

“If you don’t know,” exclaimed Mrs. Sewell, “Now you do,” retorted the members.

Democrats, by and large, said they saw the lack of competitive races as a sign of strength and unity and a stark contrast to the fractured Republican conference, where Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, is struggling to get the support he needs to become speaker amid a rebellion on his right wing. . A historically poor performance in the midterms has given the GOP a razor-thin majority in the House for the next Congress, making the job of leading it extremely difficult.

“It shows that the Democrats are in line, the Republicans are in disarray,” said Representative Ted Lieu, D-Calif., noting that the new slate of leaders, which includes a black man, a white woman and a Latino man, “reflects the beautiful diversity of America.”

Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said she was excited to have a leader “who actually represents the diversity of our caucus.”

Mr. Aguilar said at a press conference that “while Kevin McCarthy is selling real estate and square footage for every vote he can, we are united together.” Mr. Jeffries said House Democrats are united because they share a commitment to fighting for “young people, older people, immigrants, veterans, the poor, the sick, the suffering, the least, the lost and the left behind.”

He said Democrats would “stand up to extremism whenever necessary.”

Still, some Democrats called the contested election a missed opportunity to talk about how their party is changing and how it should move forward.

“This is the most significant generational change we’ve seen in House Democrats in decades,” said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “I personally believe we could use a debate about what that means.”

The leadership election marked a major change for the caucus, which has been led by the same trio of leaders for two decades, effectively freezing out dozens of junior MPs waiting to step up.

Ms. Pelosi’s announcement before Thanksgiving that she would step down from the leadership set in motion a long-awaited change. Mr. Hoyer was quick to follow suit and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the whip, said he would give up the third seat and seek a lower seat.

His decision to remain at the helm, however, upset some members.

On Wednesday, Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who is gay, said he planned to challenge Mr. Clyburn for the position of assistant leader.

“With so much at stake, I think it is critical that the House Democratic leadership team fully reflects the diversity of our caucus and the American people by including an LGBTQ+ member on the leadership table,” he said in a letter to his colleagues in which announced that he will bid. That race will be decided on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the election, Mr Jeffries described the role he would take on as a “solemn responsibility”.

“When we get the opportunity as diverse leaders to serve in important positions, the most meaningful thing we can do in that space is to do an incredibly good job,” Mr. Jeffries said.

He played down the divisions among Democrats and expressed confidence in his ability, along with his expected leadership team, to keep the party united in the coming year.

“There’s nothing more unifying than being in the minority and having a clear goal and objective to get back into the majority so we can continue to deliver great things to everyday Americans,” he said.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said he has known Mr. Jeffries, a neighbor from Brooklyn, for years and expects to talk to him as much as he now talks to Ms. Pelosi: about four to five times a day.

“She looks a little like Pelosi,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “When I first met her, I said, ‘This person is special, she’s going somewhere.’ I felt the same way about Hakeem.”

Mr. Schumer said Mr. Jeffries “always had the upper hand” in the race to succeed Ms. Pelosi.

“He’s very good at reaching people of many ideologies,” Mr. Schumer said, predicting that Mr. Jeffries would be able to reach across party lines.

“There are going to be a whole bunch of Republicans who are not going to be happy with MAGA’s direction of the party, and I couldn’t think of a better person to work with them to try to get things done,” Mr. Schumer said.

Luke Broadwater and Stephanie Lai contributed to the reporting.

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