Updated Nov 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Hakeem Jeffries elected House Democratic leader

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, wearing a blue suit jacket, light blue shirt and red tie, walks in a Capitol basement hallway flanked by staff and security.

Newly elected House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, was elected by his colleagues on Wednesday to serve as minority leader.

Why it matters: He is the first new Democratic leader in two decades and the first Black leader of a party in Congress.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has led the caucus since 2003, announced her retirement from leadership earlier this month.
  • "This is a moment of transition," Jeffries, 52, a lawyer and former state legislator first elected to Congress in 2012, said in a sit-down with reporters on Tuesday night. "And we stand on the shoulders of giants."

The big picture: Assistant Leader Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) were elected minority whip and caucus chair, the Nos. 2 and 3 positions. The trio has been planning their ascent for years.

  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), like Pelosi, is stepping down to serve as a rank-and-file member, while Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is running for assistant leader, the No. 4 role.

What they're saying: Jeffries said Tuesday that his aim for Democrats in the minority is to "find common ground with Republicans to get things done that can make life better for everyday Americans whenever possible."

  • But, he added, "we are also prepared to oppose their extremism where we must."
  • Jeffries did not shy away from criticizing his likely GOP counterpart, Kevin McCarthy, and noted he's had "more interaction" with McCarthy's deputy, Steve Scalise. But, he said, "I have an open mind about being able to engage with Kevin McCarthy, for the good of the country."
  • He also expressed confidence he can keep his diverse and often fractious caucus unified: "There's nothing more unifying than being in the minority and having a clear-eyed objective and goal of getting back into the majority."

The big picture: The one contested race on Wednesday was for Democratic Caucus vice chair. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) handily beat out Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) in a race that went to three ballots.

  • In the final round, Lieu defeated Dingell 141-74.
  • The caucus also voted 166-38 to make the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair an appointed position.
  • A measure to create a chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee was approved by acclamation. That role is expected to go to Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).

What’s next: The caucus voted 152-54 to create a leadership position to represent members from battleground districts, which will be one of two contested leadership elections on Thursday.

  • Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) are both running for the position, according to two House Democrats. Their offices confirmed their bids to Axios.
  • Members will also vote on the assistant leader position: Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) sent a letter to colleagues announcing his challenge to Clyburn for the role amid grumbling from younger members about the 82-year-old Clyburn remaining in leadership.
  • “I think there is significant support in our caucus for ensuring there is LGBTQ representation in leadership,” Cicilline told reporters on Tuesday, adding that some members had asked him to run.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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