House Democrats Set to Pick Hakeem Jeffries to Lead Party

WASHINGTON—Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is set to be chosen to lead House Democrats in the next Congress, making the New Yorker the first black man to lead a major political party and marking a generational shift after the departure of three longtime leaders.

Democrats will vote on their new leadership on Wednesday, ending two decades under Nancy Pelosi of California, who served as both president and minority leader during that time. She is stepping down as Republicans prepare to take a majority in the new year following their midterm election victories.

Representatives Katherine Clark (D., Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D., Calif.) are expected to be elected to the No. 2 and No. 3 Democratic minority seats, respectively. The three Democrats are running unopposed.

Mr. Jeffries, 52, was first elected to Congress in 2012 and represents Brooklyn. Ms. Clark, 59, currently deputy chair who is expected to become a minority whip, represents the northern and western suburbs of Boston. She first won her seat in a special election in 2013. Mr. Aguilar, 43, represents a district east of Los Angeles. He is currently vice-president of the Democratic Caucus and will become its president. He was elected to Congress in 2014.

In a letter to his colleagues unveiling his candidacy, Mr. Jeffries pledged a style of leadership that empowers grassroots Democrats, focuses on winning back a majority in 2024 and contrasts with the GOP.

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“Each generation of leaders within the institution is going to have to chart its own course,” Jeffries said Tuesday during a call with reporters. “I look forward to moving in a direction that continues to bring together all disparate parts of the caucus — from progressives to new democrats to blue dogs and everything in between,” referring to the various ideological groups in the Democratic conference .

Ms. Pelosi, 82, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), 83, and whip James Clyburn (D., SC), 82, all said earlier this month that they would leave the top three leadership positions but remain in Congress. Mr Clyburn is expected to be selected to be the aide to the Democratic leader, who is lower in the leadership structure than his current role. He also faces no opposition.

Because they will be in the minority next year, the Democrats will have different titles than the current leadership structure.

While Democrats are ready to choose their leaders with little drama, Republicans still have work to do. Several GOP lawmakers have said they will not support Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), the current Minority Leader, for president. The next Speaker of the House must be elected by a majority of lawmakers present and voting in January, which means that almost all Republicans must support him if all Democrats oppose him.

Some Republicans have expressed skepticism that Mr. Jeffries would be very different from Ms. Pelosi, whom they have strongly opposed over the years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by Majority Whip James Clyburn and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who are all stepping down from their leadership positions but retaining their seats.


Photo:

Alex Wong/Getty Images

“I don’t know Hakeem Jeffries very well. He’s known to be close to Speaker Pelosi,” said Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, who heads the Republican Study Committee, a conservative group of majority House Republicans.

Mr Jeffries has been highly critical of the current Republican Party and has promised he will continue to be so if he disagrees with its policies. However, the New York Democrat has worked with some Republicans, including on the First Step Act of 2018, the most sweeping overhaul of the federal criminal justice system passed in decades.

“Nothing but good things to say about our ability to work together,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R., SC), who co-sponsored the legislation with Mr. Jeffries.

It was not always clear that MM. Jeffries and Aguilar and Mrs. Clark would have a smooth path. The trio, who privately called themselves ‘the children’s table’, have long seen themselves as the group to take care of, but until the day of Ms Pelosi’s announcement they were unsure if it was okay be possible. .

Before Ms Pelosi’s announcement, the three did not know what Mr Hoyer and Mr Clyburn were planning, according to two people familiar with the groupthink.

There had been speculation that Mr Hoyer would stay on as No 2 or even try to be the leader himself. Mr. Jeffries and Ms. Clark planned to run for those places regardless of Mr. Hoyer’s decision, the people said. On November 17, shortly after Ms. Pelosi’s announcement, Mr. Hoyer sent a letter to his colleagues saying he also intended to step down but remain in Congress, much to the relief of all three members.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hoyer said he didn’t want to be a member who stayed on too long. He described the change as “a generational leadership change within our party in a very unified way, which I think is good for a party and good for the country.”

Before his decision, Mr Clyburn had conversations with the group, including Mr Jeffries – who called him a mentor – about their ambitions. Ultimately, he announced that he planned to remain in management, but take on a more advisory role as deputy chief.

While the trio faces no Democratic opposition, Mr. Jeffries has faced progressives in the past, including fellow New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has backed challengers to more moderate incumbents.

Several other Democrats had also expressed interest in running for the leadership, including Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who currently serves as chairman of the intelligence committee. Mr Schiff had tested support for a leader bid but eventually pulled out of the running.

Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Joe Neguse of Colorado also decided not to seek election.

Write to Eliza Collins at eliza.collins+1@wsj.com. and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

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