It was a largely suspense-free proceeding: Jeffries had been running unopposed for the top spot, and in recent years, he had emerged as the de facto heir apparent to Pelosi. When the Speaker announced she would not seek another term in leadership on November 17, top Democrats quickly endorsed Jeffries as her replacement.
But the moment holds plenty of significance for House Democrats, who will navigate the post-Pelosi era in the minority after a narrow defeat in this year’s midterm elections. For one, Jeffries is the first-ever Black leader of any party—in either chamber of Congress—building on the historic run of Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker.
And at 52 years old, Jeffries will be the youngest of the “Big Four” congressional leaders. For much of the past 20 years, House Democrats were led by the aging troika of Pelosi and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC). Democrats’ increasingly young caucus is now led by a Brooklynite who is prone to pepper his statements and tweets with references to Notorious B.I.G. lyrics.
Also on Wednesday, Democrats are expected to anoint the second and third members of a new top three—who are also running unopposed. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), 59, will serve as Minority Whip, while Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), 43, will serve as caucus chair.
Next year, the new leadership team has been given an ideal situation in which to cut their teeth. Republicans will be in charge, but only with a paper-thin margin of four seats. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), in line to serve as Speaker, has not yet locked up the 218 votes needed for the position, and key conservatives are rejecting him as he races to consolidate support ahead of the January 3 vote on the floor.
Even if McCarthy does gain the Speaker’s gavel, his challenge in managing a fractious conservative conference will have only begun. He will likely need cooperation from Democrats to enact must-pass legislation, like annual government funding bills, giving Jeffries an unexpected amount of leverage for a first-time leader.
Jeffries, who served on the House Judiciary Committee during Donald Trump’s first impeachment and was an impeachment manager in his second, is known as an able and eager critic of Republicans. But he has built up relationships on the GOP side: in a recent tweet, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)—a vocal critic of McCarthy—credited Democrats for choosing their “most talented member” to lead them.
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