WASHINGTON — House Democrats elected their new leadership team on Wednesday, ushering in a younger generation of leaders after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer stepped down after Democrats narrowly lost the majority this month.
Pelosi, 82, of California, the first female speaker of the House, will pass the torch to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., 52, who ran unopposed for Minority Leader and will make history as the first black legislator to pass a political party’s caucus in both chambers.
“This is a moment of transition,” Jeffries told a small group of reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday night. “We stand on the shoulders of giants, but also look forward to being able to do what is necessary at this time to move the issues forward.”
Jeffries’ top deputy will be Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., 59, a progressive who served under Jeffries as vice chair of the Democratic Caucus and rose to assistant speaker this Congress. She was elected minority whip, the party’s main vote teller.
Rounding out the trio of new leaders is Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., 43, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and former mayor who was elected chair of the Democratic Caucus — the role Jeffries has held for the past four years.
The election of Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar represents a changing of the guard for House Democrats who have seen the powerful triumvirate of Pelosi, Hoyer, D-Md., 83, and Jim Clyburn, DS.C., 82, hold top leaders for the past two decades.
Of the current “Big Three” Democrats, only Clyburn, the current majority whip, has chosen to remain in the lead in the new Congress. He will run for the position of “assistant leader,” which has historically been considered the number 3 outnumbered position, but will shift to the number 4 position this Congress.
Clyburn’s decision frustrated some younger members, who had hoped the new Congress would start with a clean slate. And on Wednesday, Rep. David Cicilline, DR.I., 61, made a surprise bid to Clyburn for assistant chief; that election will take place on Thursday.
In a letter to colleagues announcing his run, Cicilline said, “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. at the leadership table, which is why I’ve decided to run for assistant leader.
A young Democratic member who supports Cicilline expressed frustration on Wednesday at Clyburn’s decision to run for leadership again. “I think it’s pretty ridiculous that Nancy had to leave. … She was the most effective leader in history and I’m not sure why he was [Clyburn] didn’t have to go with her,” the Democrat said.
In recent years, other young, ambitious, and talented Democrats seeking to climb the leadership ladder found they had nowhere to turn but get out.
Xavier Becerra, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, was appointed as California Attorney General and was subsequently appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by President Joe Biden. Two of Pelosi’s stalwart deputies in leadership, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, successfully competed for Senate seats once their options ran out.
Others, including New York’s Steve Israel, who ran the campaign and communications arm of the House of Representatives Democrats, chose to retire.
Pelosi and Hoyer won’t go far. Instead of resigning, the two said they will remain in Congress. And on Tuesday night, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted unanimously to award Pelosi the ceremonial title of “Speaker Emerita.” The resolution conferring the honor on Pelosi was offered by Jeffries.
“Speaker Nancy Pelosi will go down as one of the greatest legislative leaders in American history,” said Steering Committee Co-Chairs Eric Swalwell, Barbara Lee and Cheri Bustos. “By granting speaker Pelosi this honorary title, we proudly celebrate her marble-ceiling-shattering and legendary public service.”
When asked how his leadership style might differ from that of Pelosi — a shrewd legislator who sometimes ruled her caucus with an iron grip — Jeffries seemed to see the team first.
“The House Democratic Caucus is at its best when everyone gets a chance to get on the playing field and play the right position,” he said.
Jeffries dodged several questions about what it meant to him to be the first black person to lead either party in Congress.
“I haven’t really had an opportunity to think about that,” he said, adding later, “to the extent that I spent any time on outside stories or the magnitude of the moment, it would remove the need to have real-time decisions as we prepare to organize for the new convention.