House Democrats appear likely to elect New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries to succeed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a potentially historic move to elect the first black person to lead a party in Congress.
Jeffries launched his bid for the House Democratic leader on Friday, promising his colleagues in a letter that he would strengthen and protect them — and expand their ranks.
“Our highest non-governmental priority, in the interest of the American people, must be to regain the majority by November 2024,” Jeffries wrote.
In a sign of Jeffries’ rising power, Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn quickly endorsed him after announcing that they would be stepping down from their leadership positions.
Pelosi blessed the new trio of leaders expected to succeed them – Jeffries, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark and California Rep. Peter Aguilar – in a statement on Friday. The election of the House Democrats leaders is on November 30.
“A new day is dawning — and I am confident that these new leaders will ably lead our Caucus and Congress,” Pelosi said.
“Speaker Pelosi has left an indelible mark on Congress and the country, and I look forward to her continued service and doing everything I can to assist our new generation of Democratic leaders,” Clyburn said in a statement. And Hoyer said Jeffries “will make history for the House institution and for our country.”
At age 52, Jeffries would represent a generational change from the current triumvirate of House Democratic leaders, who are three decades his senior. He became the chairman of the Democratic caucus in 2019, making him the youngest member in the leadership.
In his letter Friday, Jeffries praised past leadership, but said, “More needs to be done to fight inflation, defend our democracy, secure reproductive freedom, welcome new Americans, provide equal protection under the law promote and improve public safety throughout this country.”
He promised his rank-and-file colleagues that he would give them more power in the legislative process, writing: “We must map out a return to regular order”. He also said that in “perilous times,” Congress should focus on passing bills to “fight crime” for Americans and “significantly improve the safety of all members and their families.”
Jeffries appears to enjoy widespread support among the House Democratic caucus.
Before Pelosi’s announcement, Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, the president of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that she expected the caucus to throw their support behind Jeffries.
“If she steps aside, I know very clearly that Hakeem Jeffries is the person I will vote for and lead the Congressional Black Caucus to vote for,” said Beatty. “I don’t always speak for everyone, but I can safely say that I believe any member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries.”
And Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a former Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman, also threw his weight behind Jeffries. “Hakeem Jeffries came into my class and I’m a big fan of Hakeem,” Pocan told CNN. “I think he is extremely intelligent, he is a good person to bring consensus to the caucus. I think he will be an excellent leader.”
For months, Democratic lawmakers have whispered that Pelosi’s possible departure from Congress could pave the way for Jeffries. The Brooklyn-born lawyer 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 election to Congress a decade ago. In the Trump era, Jeffries played a pivotal role in passing the bipartisan criminal justice review known as the First Step Act and advocating the impeachment of the former president as house manager in the first trial. He has continued to shape the party’s reporting throughout the Biden administration.
Some House Democrats have waited a long time to turn the page on the Pelosi era. She earned the 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’s accomplished an incredible amount, but I also think there are a lot of Democrats ready for a new chapter,” Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, who previously tried to oust Pelosi, told CNN.
But those who follow 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 economic stimulus bill of 2008, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and, most recently, an overwhelming $750 billion health care and tax bill, including the largest investment in U.S. history to address climate change.
Pelosi, who will continue to serve in Congress to represent San Francisco, will leave her successor with a larger-than-expected minority in the House after the 2022 midterm elections. Some Democrats said they wish she remained leader.
When asked about Pelosi’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer clutched his chest and said he begged her to stay.
“I told her that when she called me and told me this and that, I said, ‘Please change your mind.’ We need you here,” Schumer said.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.