House Democrats look set to elect New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to succeed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a potentially historic move to elect the first black person to lead a party in Congress.
After Pelosi announced Thursday that she would relinquish the leadership role she held for 20 years, the speaker would not say who she would support to replace her in the Nov. 30 vote.
But in a sign of Jeffries’ burgeoning power, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn quickly endorsed him after announcing they too would step down from their leadership positions.
“Speaker Pelosi has left an indelible mark on Congress and the country, and I look forward to her continued service and doing what I can to help our new generation of Democratic leaders, which I hope will be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark and Peter Aguilar. ” Clyburn said in a statement, referring to New York, Massachusetts and California Democrats. Hoyer said Jeffries “will make history for the institution of the House and for our country.”
At 52, Jeffries would represent a generational shift from the current triumvirate of House Democratic leaders, who are three decades older than him. He became chairman of the Democratic caucus in 2019, making him the youngest member to serve in the leadership.
Asked when he had formally announced his bid for the leader, Jeffries said Thursday: “Let’s spend the day at this moment continuing to address the historic nature of Speaker Pelosi and the opportunity that we’ve all had to serve with her.”
“It’s been a great experience,” he added. “This is a moment right now to continue to celebrate Speaker Pelosi.”
Jeffries appears to enjoy widespread support among the House Democratic caucus.
Before Pelosi’s announcement, Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that she expected the caucus to throw its support behind Jeffries.
“If she steps aside, I’m very clear that Hakeem Jeffries is the person I will vote for and lead the Congressional Black Caucus to vote for,” Beatty said. “I don’t always speak for everyone, but I’m very comfortable saying that I think every member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries.”
Outgoing North Carolina Rep. GK Butterfield, a former CBC chairman, told CNN that Jeffries “is prepared for the moment” if Pelosi stepped aside. Butterfield said he thought Jeffries would run.
And Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a former Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman, also threw his weight behind Jeffries. “Hakeem Jeffries came in my class and I’m a big fan of Hakeem,” Pocan told CNN. “I think he’s extremely intelligent, he’s a good person to build consensus among the caucus. I think he’ll be an excellent leader.”
For months, Democratic lawmakers have whispered that Pelosi’s potential exit from Congress could pave the way for Jeffries. The Brooklyn-raised attorney graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton, Georgetown and New York University Law School before being elected to the New York State Assembly in 2006. He has since served New York’s 8th District since winning his first elections to Congress a decade ago. In the Trump era, Jeffries played a pivotal role in passing the bipartisan Criminal Justice Overhaul Act, known as the First Step Act, and in arguing the former president’s impeachment case as House Speaker in the first trial. He has continued to shape the party’s messaging during the Biden administration.
Some House Democrats have waited a long time to turn the page on the Pelosi era. She was given the speaker’s gavel after the 2006 election, lost it after the 2010 election and won it again after the 2018 election.
“She’s a historic speaker who has accomplished an incredible amount, but I also think there are many Democrats who are ready for a new chapter,” said Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who previously tried to impeach Pelosi, to CNN.
But whoever follows Pelosi will serve in the shadow of her legacy as one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in American politics. The speaker was instrumental in passing the Affordable Care Act, the 2008 economic stimulus bill, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, and most recently a comprehensive $750 billion health and tax bill that included the largest investment in US history to address climate change.
Pelosi, who will continue to serve in Congress representing San Francisco, will leave her successor with a larger-than-expected House minority after the 2022 midterm elections. Some Democrats said they wanted her to remain leader.
Asked about Pelosi’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer clutched his chest and said he had begged her to stay.
“I told her when she called me and told me this and all that, I said, ‘Please change your mind. We need you here,'” Schumer said.