WASHINGTON — House Democrats will elect their new leadership team Wednesday morning and usher in a younger generation of leaders after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer decided to step down after Democrats narrowly lost a majority this month.
Pelosi, 82, of California, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, will pass the torch to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., 52, who is running unopposed for minority leader and will make history as the first black legislator to hold a political caucus party in both chambers.
“This is a moment of transition,” Jeffries told a small group of reporters at the Capitol Tuesday night. “We stand on the shoulders of giants, but we also look forward to doing what is necessary at this moment 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 become vice speaker of that convention. She is running unopposed for Minority Whip, the party’s top ballot teller.
Rounding out the trio of new leaders is Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., 43, a member of the Hispanic faction of Congress and a former mayor who is running unopposed for leader of the Democratic faction — the role Jeffries has played in recent held for 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, take top positions in the Occupy leadership for the past two decades.
In recent years, younger Democrats, equally ambitious and talented, who wanted to climb the ladder of leadership discovered that the only way was out.
Democratic Party leader Xavier Becerra accepted an appointment to be California Attorney General and was then appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by President Joe Biden. Two of Pelosi’s loyal deputies in the leadership, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, ran successfully for Senate seats after their options expired.
Others, including Steve Israel of New York, who ran both the campaign and communications department for House Democrats, chose to retire.
Of the current “Big Three” Democrats, only Clyburn, the current majority leader, has opted to remain at the helm in the new Congress. He will hold the post of Assistant Leader, which has historically been considered the No. 3 minority position, but will be demoted to the No. 4 position at this Congress.
Clyburn’s decision to stay has frustrated some younger members who had hoped the new Congress would start with a clean slate. Because of Clyburn’s support from the Congressional Black Caucus and other allies, that means one of the younger lawmakers won’t be able to climb to No. 4.
But Pelosi has pointed out many times that power is not given willingly—it has to be “grabbed” in order to be had. And nobody in the caucus challenged Clyburn.
Both Pelosi and Hoyer won’t go far. Rather than resign, the two said they would remain in Congress. And on Tuesday night, the House of Representatives’ Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted unanimously to grant Pelosi the ceremonial title of Speaker Emerita. The resolution that honored 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 bestowing this honorific on Speaker Pelosi, we proudly celebrate her marble-covering and legendary public service.”
When asked how his leadership style might differ from that of Pelosi — a shrewd lawmaker who sometimes ruled her faction with an iron fist — Jeffries seemed to take a team-oriented view.
“The House Democratic caucus is at its best when everyone has the opportunity to be on the field and play position,” he said.
Jeffries dodged several questions about what it meant for him to be the first black person to lead either party in Congress.
“I didn’t really get a chance to think about it,” he said, later adding, “To the extent that I spent time engaging with external narratives or the size of the moment, it would keep me from being real-time.” to make decisions as we prepare to organize the new Congress.”