New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries has been elected head of the House Democratic caucus, becoming the first Black lawmaker to lead a major American party in Congress.
Jeffries was elected in a unanimous, closed-door vote on Wednesday. Jeffies will become the House minority leader following the November midterm elections, in which Republicans managed to secure a slim House majority.
In his first press conference following his election, Jeffries said he stood “on the shoulders of people like Shirley Chisholm and so many others.” Chisholm, a Democrat, was the first Black woman ever elected to congress in 1968, and was the first Black candidate to seek a presidential nomination within a major party. Chisholm and Jefferies represented many of the same neighborhoods within their districts.
The change in leadership comes after longtime party leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she would be stepping down from leadership after more than 20 years in the role. Pelosi was the first woman to ever hold the speakership.
Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) will join Jeffries in party leadership as Democratic whip and caucus chair, respectively. The trio had long been expected to assume positions of power within the party following the departure of Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) from major party roles.
Jeffries, a representative serving portions of Brooklyn and Queens, was first elected into office in 2012. He has served as chair of the House Democratic caucus since 2019. In 2022, Jeffries was selected to serve as one of two House managers in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Jeffries gave a memorable speech on the House floor during the trial in which he quoted rapper The Notorious B.I.G..
An advocate for voting rights and racial justice, Jeffries has nonetheless clashed with the leftmost factions of his party, and has drawn a hard line between himself and the democratic-socialist members of his party. He told The Atlantic in an interview last year that there “will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.” In 2021, he established the Team Blue PAC, which sought to protect incumbent Democrats from challenges, particularly those from the left.
The efficient promotion of Jefferies stands in stark contrast to the turmoil within the Republican House caucus, where speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) faces challenges to his leadership bid from members of his own party.
On Tuesday, Jeffries indicated to Axios that his aim is to “find common ground with Republicans to get things done that can make life better for everyday Americans whenever possible.” Jeffries indicated he has an “open mind about being able to engage with Kevin McCarthy, for the good of the country.”