In a statement, Jeffries paid tribute to Pelosi but made no mention of his plans to seek the leadership job, though his move has been widely reported. Pelosi “is the most accomplished speaker in American history, and our country is undoubtedly better off because of her extraordinary leadership.” He went on to call her “a steady hand to the gavel during some of the most turbulent times the nation has ever seen.”
Jeffries, in a nod to their historic rise in the House, added: “The Speaker often reminds us that our diversity is our strength. I know we will draw on that wisdom as we come together as a Caucus to start a new chapter.
One of Pelosi’s longtime colleagues, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), announced that he will also step down from his leadership position. Jeffries is expected to be joined by Representatives Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), who will seek the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, respectively.
Rep. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.) will leave his position as House Majority whip to become assistant leader, a position that will now rank fourth in the leadership structure.
Jeffries, a lawyer, hails from downtown Brooklyn, the epicenter of Democratic power in New York. He is a self-proclaimed progressive who has forged relationships with figures from Washington’s Democratic establishment while opening up to the left in his backyard.
He took office in 2013 and has been chair of the House Democratic Caucus since 2019, an executive position. In that role, he was the youngest leadership member.
With the Thursday moves, the House Democrats were on the cusp of a significant generational shift — from octogenarians like Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn to Jeffries; Clark, 59; and Aguilar, 43. Leadership elections are the week of Nov. 28 and the party appeared united behind the new list.
In an interview with The Atlantic last year, Jeffries described where he fits into the current political landscape, saying, “I am a black progressive Democrat committed to addressing racial, social and economic injustice with the fierce urgency of now. .” He added: “There will never be a moment when I bend the knee to far-left democratic socialism.”
A graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton, Georgetown and New York University Law School, Jeffries was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 2006 after unsuccessfully challenging a Democratic incumbent favored by the Brooklyn Democratic machine, Roger Green. After Jeffries lost an earlier challenge to Green, Democratic lawmakers promptly redrawn the assembly district to exclude Jeffries’ house at the time.
The blatant move to silence a young aspiring political talent became the subject of a gerrymandering documentary in 2010. In that film, Jeffries was the reformist politician who challenged the establishment.
Jeffries was elected to Congress in 2012 after longtime Rep. Ed Towns had abruptly announced that he would not seek re-election. Jeffries was widely expected to win after Towns’ departure, but suddenly found himself facing a primary challenge from Charles Barron, a Black Panther and longtime New York office holder. Fear that Brooklyn could send Barron to Congress led to a national effort by establishment Democrats to support Jeffries, which proved successful.
Once in Congress, Jeffries not only represented a mix of liberal and establishment politics, but also youthful Brooklyn swagger.
He once paid tribute to the slain rapper from his district, Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious BIG Jeffries called Wallace “the classic embodiment of the American Dream.”
Invoking several of the rapper’s stage names in 2017, he added, “Biggie Smalls, Frank White, the King of New York. He died 20 years ago today in a tragedy that took place in Los Angeles. But his words live on forever.”
Jeffries then rapped the lyrics to one of the rapper’s most celebrated songs, “Juicy”: “It was all a dream/ I read Word Up magazine/ Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D in the limo/ Hangin’ pictures on my wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.
In 2015, Jeffries considered running for mayor of New York City, as then-Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio failed to deliver on his campaign promise of large-scale changes to the city’s widely criticized police tactics.
In 2020, Jeffries served as impeachment manager in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, reflecting Pelosi’s faith in him.
Jeffries also helped sharpen the Democrats’ message, as he regularly hit the campaign trail and was available for interviews with reporters.
In 2020, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called on Joe Biden to suspend his presidential campaign during the Senate trial of Trump. When a reporter asked Jeffries about McCarthy’s comment, Jeffries, wrote the New York Times, replied simply, “Who?”
If elected Democratic leader, Jeffries will find himself mixed up with McCarthy, who is seeking the speakership in next year’s Republican-controlled House.