Representative Hakeem Jeffries became the first African American to lead a major U.S. political party in Congress on Wednesday, marking a significant milestone as Nancy Pelosi plans to resign as Speaker at the end of next year. House Democrats demonstrated rare party unity after losing the midterm elections by appointing the fifty-two-year-old New Yorker who pledged to “get things done” in the new Congress after transitioning smoothly from a history-making leader to another.
On Wednesday, the House Democrats welcomed a new generation of leaders, with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries being elected to lead their party at a crucial juncture as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team prepare to step aside.#HakeemJeffries #NancyPelosi #Jeffries #Democrats #NewsUpdate pic.twitter.com/kAgz5vFrwi
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Despite the Republican victory, he promised to “get things done.” A unanimous vote was achieved by acclamation during the closed-door meeting. After the meeting, Jeffries said of Pelosi and her team, “We stand on the shoulders of their collective broad shoulders.” But, due to the moment’s graveness and solemnity, he said earlier, “the best thing we can do for the people is lean in hard and do our best.” Party leaders rarely regroup so easily after losing the midterm elections.
It contrasts starkly with the upheaval among Republicans as they prepare to take hold of the new Congress in January. Then, as Republican leader Kevin McCarthy became the new Speaker of the House, they struggled to unite around him. Aiming to be the de facto leader of the Democratic caucus, Jeffries and the other top leaders did not face any challengers on Wednesday. In the private meeting, Democratic winners’ confidence in the candidates was expressed through a call-and-response reminiscent of a church service, some in the room said.
Democratic Minority Leader
Jeffries will assume the leadership role of the Democratic minority leader in the new Congress. Representative Pete Aguilar of California, 43, will chair the Democratic caucus, and Representative Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts, will serve as the Democratic whip. During the coming months, the new team of Democratic leaders will fill the positions held by Pelosi and her top lieutenants – Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, as the 80-something leaders step aside and make way for the next generation.
However, in many ways, Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar have been transitioning in plain sight: they have been in lower-rung leadership roles with Pelosi’s backing for several years while preparing to step down as Speaker. For the past 20 years, Speaker Pelosi has served as the leader of the House Democrats, and colleagues bestowed upon her the honorific title of “speaker emerita” late Tuesday. “A new generation of leadership is an important development for the Caucus,” said Representative Chris Pappas, D-New Hampshire, before the vote.
Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, a Democrat, termed the leadership election “historic” and stated that “it is time for a change.” Although Democrats were relegated to minority status in the 118th Congress, they had some leverage due to McCarthy’s tenuous grip on his party and a small Republican majority. Both new potential House leaders, McCarthy and Jeffries, are of the same generation but do not have any direct relationship — the Democrat is known for launching political barbs at the Republicans from afar, particularly considering the Republicans’ embrace of Donald Trump as president. The first impeachment of Donald Trump was managed by Jeffries, who served as House manager at the time.
Make America Great Again
During his statement on Wednesday, Jeffries stated that he would be eager to work with Republicans, but he also reiterated that the party remains committed to rebuking extremism when necessary. Two New Yorkers will helm the Democratic leadership in Congress, Jeffries, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, on the other side of the Capitol. In Brooklyn, they reside approximately one mile away from each other. “Some mainstream Republicans, in my opinion, will not wish to go in the MAGA direction, and Hakeem is an attractive candidate to work with them,” Schumer expressed in an interview, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”
In his first interview as the nation’s second-highest elected official, Clark invited GOP to work with Democrats on bipartisan projects. “We are open to members from both parties who wish to participate in working for the American people,” she added. Additionally, Patti Aguilar, the third-ranking member of the committee, said that Democrats had emerged with a mandate from midterm elections: “We are combating MAGA extremism in the Republican Party, which is capturing the right flank of the party.
Occasionally, Jeffries has been viewed with skepticism by progressives in the party since he is regarded as a more centrist figure in the House Democratic Party. Although Jeffries does not face challengers, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a progressive and a member of the “squad” of liberal members of Congress, expressed her happiness with how he and his team are reaching out. “It seems he is sincere about his desire to develop working relationships with many of us,” she said.
Clyburn to Face Unexpected Challenge
In addition to retaining a seat at the top of the leadership table and supporting the transition of the new generation, Clyburn is also seeking the position of assistant Democratic leader. Representative David Cicilline, an openly gay representative, presents an unexpected challenge to Clyburn. In his letter to colleagues, he urged House Democrats to include a member who is LGBTQ+ as a member of the leadership table so that they may fully respect the diversity of the caucus and the American people.
Thursday’s election for the assistant leader position and several other positions is expected to be a more contentious affair than Wednesday’s hugging and high-fives. During Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the Capitol dome was extended during the Civil War as a symbol of the nation’s resolve during wartime. Jeffries’ election marked a landmark for Black Americans. The first African American female to be elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm, represented the Brooklyn area the same week as his election, November 30, 1924.
In a statement, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton said Jeffries’ elevation represents an important period for equality in America, as another barrier to equal representation has been lowered.” Hoyer and Pelosi intend to remain in office, a noteworthy but not unique arrangement that Jeffrie called a “blessing” since they will be available to consult with the new leadership. Despite their large size, diversity, and tendency to be noisy, Jeffries described the House Democrats as a positive factor because it reflects the institution’s position as close to the people.