WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a new generation of leaders with an excited Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. He became the first black American elected to lead a major political party in Congress when longtime Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team stepped down the following year.
A rare show of party unity after a by-election defeat, House Democrats moved seamlessly from one history-making leader to another, electing a 52-year-old New Yorker who vowed to “get things done” even after Republicans won control of the chamber. The closed-door vote was unanimous.
“It’s a sacred responsibility that we all inherit,” Jeffries told reporters ahead of the party meeting. “The best thing we can do as a result of the gravity and singularity of this moment is to lean in hard and do the best job we can for the people.”
A party that has lost a midterm election rarely regroups so easily and stands in stark contrast to the upsurge among Republicans, who are struggling to unite around GOP leader Kevin McCarthy. As Speaker of the new House, he is poised to take control when the new Congress convenes in January.
Internal Democratic votes for Jeffries and other top leaders on Wednesday came unchallenged. When the election was over there was an uproar.
The trio, led by Jeffries, who will become the Democratic minority leader in the new Congress, includes 59-year-old Rep. Catherine Clark of Massachusetts as the Democratic whip and 43-year-old Rep. Pete Aguilar of California as the caucus chairman. A new team of Democratic leaders is expected to move into seats held by Pelosi and her top lieutenants. — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina — 80-something leaders leading the way for the next generation.
But in many ways, the three are changing in plain sight, as one aide said — Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar have all worked with Pelosi’s intervention over the past several years, in lower-level leadership roles as the first woman to assume the speaker’s cowl. get down. Pelosi, a native of California, has led House Democrats for the past 20 years, and colleagues awarded her the honorary title of “Speaker Emerita” late Tuesday.
“This is an important moment for the caucus — there’s a new generation of leadership,” DNH Rep. Chris Pappas said ahead of the vote.
Democratic Representative Cory Bush of Missouri called the presidential election a “historic election” and a “time for change.”
Even if Democrats are relegated to the House minority in the new year in the 118th Congress, they will have a limited amount of leverage, as the Republican majority is slim and McCarthy’s hold on his party is expected to be weakened.
Jeffries and McCarthy, the two new potential leaders of the House, are of the same generation, but have almost no real relationship to speak of — in fact, the Democratic Party is known for leveling political deadlocks against the GOP’s embrace of Republicans from afar, especially the former president. Donald Trump. Jeffries served as House manager during Trump’s first impeachment.
“We’re still working through the implications of Trumpism and what it represents as a very disruptive force for American democracy,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries said he would find “common ground if possible” with Republicans, but said “we must resist their extremism.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Jeffries will have a partner in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as two New Yorkers are poised to lead Democratic leadership in Congress. They live about a mile (1.6 kilometers) apart in Brooklyn.
“In my judgment, there’s going to be a group of mainstream Republicans who don’t want to go in the MAGA direction, and Hakim is the best kind of guy to work with,” Schumer said in an interview, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Jeffries has sometimes drawn skepticism from party progressives and is seen as a centrist figure among House Democrats.
But a progressive and partial representative of a “team” of liberal lawmakers. Rashida Tlieb, D-Mich., said she is pleased with the way Jeffries and his team are achieving whatever challenges they face.
“There’s a real sense that he wants to develop relationships and working partnerships with many of us,” he said.
No. Clark, in No. 2, is seen as a coalition-builder in the leadership group, while Aguilar, the third-ranking leader, is known as a behind-the-scenes conduit to centrists and Republicans.
Clyburn, now the highest-ranking black American in Congress, is seeking to become the Democratic vice president, taking a seat at the leadership table and helping transform a new generation.
But Clyburn faces an unexpected challenge from Rep. David Cicilline, DRI. At the head table.”
Elections for the assistant chairman and other posts are expected to be held on Thursday.
Jeffries’ ascension comes as a landmark for black Americans, the Capitol built with the labor of enslaved people and its dome later expanded to become a symbol of the nation’s standing during the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was president.
Her Brooklyn-area district was once represented by the first black woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm, who was born on November 30, 1924, the same day she was elected.
“The thing about Pete, Catherine and I is that we embrace what House represents,” Jeffries said, calling it “an institution close to the people.”
Although House Democrats are often a big, diverse, “noisy family,” he said, “that’s a good thing.” He said, “At the end of the day, we’re always committed to finding the highest common denominator to do great things for everyday Americans.”
Associated Press writers Farnoosh Amiri and Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Jeffries is 52, not 57.
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