Pelosi’s Departure Sets Up Generational Shift In House Dem Caucus: ‘This Is Hakeem’s Time’ 

Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference after the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

TPM’s Kate Riga contributed reporting.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) announcement on Thursday afternoon that she will not seek a leadership role in the next Congress has paved the way for a new, younger generation to lead House Democrats. Pelosi had served as her party’s leader in Congress since 2003. According to a pair of senior Democratic staffers, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is likely to be named the party’s leader in a vote set for November 30. 

“It looks like it will be zero competitive races for upper leadership. We expect Jeffries will win by acclamation,” one of the staffers said. 

Jeffries, who is currently caucus chairman, the Democrats’ fifth-ranked leadership position, would serve as the minority leader due to the Republican gains in the midterm elections earlier this month. He would be the first Black House leader. A source close to Jeffries said the congressman is keenly aware of how meaningful that milestone is for the Black community and that Jeffries had been building support behind the scenes for the leadership vote. Jeffries, who hails from the New York City borough of Brooklyn, and his office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pelosi and the other top two members of the party’s current House leadership, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), are all in their early eighties. Less than an hour after Pelosi announced she won’t be seeking reelection to Democratic leadership, Hoyer released a statement saying the same. Clyburn released a more ambiguous statement but will run for assistant leader.

“Now is the time for a new generation of leaders, and I am proud to offer my strong endorsement to Hakeem Jeffries for Democratic Leader, a role in which he will make history for the institution of the House and for our country,” Hoyer said in his statement. “He is a skilled and capable leader who will help us win back the Majority in 2024 as we strive to continue delivering on our promises to the American people.”

Jeffries, who is 52-years-old, is expected to be joined in Democratic leadership by two other colleagues who are far younger than their predecessors. The two senior Democratic staffers said they also expect Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), a 59-year-old who is currently assistant speaker, will serve as Democratic whip under Jeffries. 

“No question Hakeem and Clark have this on lock,” one of the staffers said. 

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), who is 43, is in line to take conference chairman, the third leadership position, the other Democratic staffer told TPM. In the speech announcing her decision, Pelosi signaled a broader changeover:  “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Congress that I so deeply respect.” The move comes amid an unprecedented spike in the average age of members of Congress, making the current Congress the oldest in history. This has been a growing source of frustration for younger members. 

“Time for fresh blood across the board,” one Democratic House member said of the new leadership slate. 

Multiple sources told TPM there could still be competitive fights for the lower-level party leadership positions. Theoretically, another candidate could still emerge for one of the top spots, but that is unlikely with so little time left before the vote, one of the Democratic staffers told TPM.

“It’s pretty late for someone to come out of the woodwork,” the staffer said.

Two other prominent Democrats who had been considered potential leadership hopefuls, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chairwoman of the progressive caucus, are both not believed to be running for leadership. Multiple sources familiar told TPM that Schiff was declining to run. While Jayapal had considered mounting a bid, multiple sources said she has not discussed the possibility with members of her caucus more recently. Jayapal’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michael Hardaway, Jeffries’ longtime former communications director, praised the congressman as someone who has “clearly defined himself as one of the leaders of the next generation of the Democratic Party.” Hardaway cited Jeffries role in passing criminal justice reform legislation during the Trump administration as evidence of his priorities and proven ability to “work across the aisle to get things done.”

“He’s also shown that he’s a real voice for the working class in this country. He’s well respected and can best articulate what Democrats stand for and what we believe we can deliver for the American people. He was one of the leading voices behind the most impactful criminal justice reform legislation in our lifetime, which is the First Step Act,” Hardaway said. “I think for all of those reasons he’s best suited to lead our party in the future. Speaker Pelosi clearly agrees, Democratic voters clearly agree. This is Hakeem’s time and I’m incredibly proud of him just like everyone else in Brooklyn.”

New York State Attorney General Tish James, a fellow Brooklynite and staunch Jeffries ally, agreed.

“Proud of him,” James texted TPM. “Hakeem is a natural born leader for such a time like these, influenced by the struggles, sounds, and souls of Brooklyn.”

Clarification: The story has been to updated to reflect Clyburn’s run for assistant leader.

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