Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York elected as first Black US House minority leader

WASHINGTON, DC– Emboldened House Democrats ushered in a new generation of leaders on Wednesday when Rep. Hakeem Jeffries became the first black American to be elected leader of a major political party in Congress since longtime Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team step down next year.

Showing rare party unity after their midterm election defeats, House Democrats seamlessly moved from one storied leader to another, voting for the 52-year-old New Yorker who has vowed to “get things done” even after Republicans gained control of the chamber . The vote in camera was unanimous by acclamation.

“It’s a solemn responsibility that we all inherit,” Jeffries told reporters on the eve of the party meeting. “And the best thing we can do because of the seriousness and solemnity of the moment is lean in hard and do the best damn job for the people that we can.”

It’s rare that a party that lost the midterm elections regroups so easily, and stands in stark contrast to the upheaval among Republicans fighting to unite around GOP leader Kevin McCarthy as the new House Speaker , as they prepare to take control at the new Congress in January.

The internal Democratic Group votes Wednesday from Jeffries and the other top leaders came unchallenged.

The trio, led by Jeffries, who will become the Democratic minority leader in the new Congress, consists of 59-year-old Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark as Democratic whip and 43-year-old California Rep. Pete Aguilar as caucus chair. The new team of Democratic leaders is expected to step into the seats of Pelosi and her top lieutenants — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic whiplash James Clyburn of South Carolina — when the 80-plus leaders make room for make the next generation.

But in many ways, the trio has changed markedly, as one staffer put it — Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar worked in lower executive roles in recent years, with Pelosi’s nods as the first woman who primed the speaker’s gavel to descend. Pelosi, of California, has led the House Democrats for the past 20 years, and colleagues late Tuesday gave her the honorary title of Speaker Emerita.

“It’s an important moment for the caucus — that there is a new generation of leadership,” said Rep. Chris Pappas, DN.H., ahead of the vote.

While Democrats will be relegated to the minority in the House of Representatives in the new year, they will have some influence given that the Republican majority is expected to be so small and McCarthy’s hold on his party fragile.

The two new would-be House leaders, Jeffries and McCarthy, are of the same generation but have almost no relationship to speak of — in fact, the Democrat has been known for remotely berating the Republican for political barbs, most notably via hugging the former president by the GOP Donald Trump. Jeffries served as house manager during Trump’s first impeachment.

“We’re still working on the ramifications of Trumpism,” Jeffries said, “and what it has meant as a very destabilizing force for American democracy.”

Jeffries said he hopes to find common ground with Republicans “if possible” but will “resist their extremism if need be.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Jeffries will have a partner in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as two New Yorkers poised to take the Democratic leadership in Congress. They live about a mile apart in Brooklyn.

“There’s going to be, I think, a group of mainstream Republicans who don’t want to go in the MAGA direction, and Hakeem is the ideal guy to work with,” Schumer said in an interview, referring to Trump’s “Make America.” Great Again” slogan.

Jeffries has sometimes been viewed with skepticism by party progressives, who are seen as a more centrist figure among House Democrats.

But Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a progressive and part of the “cadre” of Liberal lawmakers, said she was heartened by the way Jeffries and his team are reaching out, despite facing no challengers.

“There’s a real sense that he wants to build relationships and work partnerships with a lot of us,” she said.

Clark, in second place, is seen as a coalition builder on the leadership team, while Aguilar, as third-ranked leader, is known as a behind-the-scenes liaison to centrists and even Republicans.

Clyburn, now the senior black American in Congress, will seek to become deputy Democratic leader and help the new generation transition.

Elections for Clyburn’s post and a few others are expected to take place on Thursday.

The rise of Jeffries is a milestone for black Americans, the Capitol was built with the labor of enslaved people and its dome was later expanded during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency as a symbol that would represent the nation during the Civil War.

“The thing about Pete, Katherine and I is that we embrace what the house represents,” Jeffries said, calling it “the institution closest to the people.”

While House Democrats are often one big, diverse, “loud family,” he said, “it’s a good thing.” He said, “At the end of the day, we always strive to find the greatest common denominator to achieve great things for the everyday American.”


Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York elected as first Black US House minority leader

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