It seems likely that House Democrats will pick 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.
After Pelosi announced Thursday that she would step down from the leadership role she has held for 20 years, the speaker did not say who he would support to replace her in the Nov. 30 vote.
But in a sign of Jeffries’ emerging power, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Leader Jim Clyburn quickly endorsed him after announcing they would also step down from their leadership posts.
“Speaker Pelosi has left an indelible mark on Congress and the country, and I look forward to her continuing to serve and doing all she can to assist our new generation of Democratic leaders, who I hope are Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark and Peter Aguilar,” Clyburn said in a statement, referring to Democrats in New York, Massachusetts and California. Hoyer said Jeffries “will make history for the establishment of the House and for our country.”
At 52, Jeffries would represent a generational change from the current triumvirate of House Democrat leaders, who are three decades his senior. He became the chairman of the Democratic caucus in 2019, making him the youngest member to serve in the leadership.
Asked when he would formally announce his candidacy for leader, Jeffries said Thursday, “We spend the day right now continuing to elaborate on the historical nature of spokesperson Pelosi and the opportunity we’ve all had to serve with her.”
“It was an amazing experience,” he added. “This is a moment right now to continue celebrating President Pelosi.”
Jeffries appears to enjoy widespread support among the House Democratic caucuses.
Prior to Pelosi’s announcement, Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN she expected the caucus to lend its support to Jeffries.
“If you step aside, I’m very clear that Hakeem Jeffries is the person I will vote for and lead the Congressional Black Caucus to vote for,” Beatty said. “I don’t always speak for everyone, but I feel very comfortable saying that I believe every member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries.”
Retired North Carolina Rep. GK Butterfield, a former CBC chairman, told CNN that Jeffries “is prepared for the moment” if Pelosi steps down. Butterfield said he thought Jeffries would race.
And Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, former chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also threw his weight into Jeffries. “Hakeem Jeffries came to my class and I’m a huge fan of Hakeem,” Pocan told CNN. “I think he’s extremely intelligent, he’s a good person to bring consensus to the caucuses. I think he will be an outstanding Leader ”.
For months, Democratic lawmakers have whispered that Pelosi’s potential exit from Congress could pave the way for Jeffries. The Brooklyn-born attorney graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton, Georgetown, and New York University Law School, prior to his election to the New York State Assembly in 2006. He has since served the 8th district of New York after winning its first election to Congress a decade ago. In the Trump era, Jeffries played a crucial role in passing the bipartisan criminal justice overhaul bill known as the First Step Act and in advocating for the former president’s impeachment as a House executive in the first trial. He has continued to shape party messages throughout the Biden administration.
Some House Democrats have waited a long time to move on from the Pelosi era. He earned the speaker’s 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 has accomplished an incredible amount, but I also think there are a lot of Democrats ready for a new chapter,” Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who previously sought to oust Pelosi, told CNN.
But anyone who follows 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 2008 economic stimulus bill, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package trillion dollars and, most recently, a $750 billion health care and tax bill that included the largest investment in American history to address climate change.
Pelosi, who will continue to serve in Congress representing San Francisco, will leave her successor with a larger-than-expected minority in the House after the 2022 midterm elections. Some Democrats said they wanted him to remain 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 when she called me and she said this and everything, I said to her, ‘Please change your mind. We need you here,’” Schumer said.