Democratic lawmakers have unanimously elected Hakeem Jeffries as their next leader in the House of Representatives, after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she would step aside as the party’s most senior member of Congress.
Jeffries, the 52-year-old congressman from New York, was selected as House Democratic leader in a closed-door meeting of party members of Congress on Wednesday morning. Jeffries, who ran unopposed, becomes the first black person to lead a political party on Capitol Hill.
The smooth transition of power in the Democratic caucus comes as Republicans remain at odds over who should lead their party after disappointing midterm election results and Donald Trump’s decision to run again for president in 2024.
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican congressman from California, was re-elected as House Republican leader earlier this month but faces a tough battle in winning over members of his own party if he is to secure the role of Speaker of the House when the new Congress is sworn in in January.
Jeffries, a former corporate lawyer who was first elected to Congress in 2012, was unchallenged for the Democratic party’s top job in the House, alongside Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who ran for party whip, and Pete Aguilar of California, who stood for conference chair. The three will effectively replace Pelosi, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, octogenarians who have led the party on Capitol Hill for decades.
House Democrats voted late on Tuesday to grant Pelosi the honorific title of “Speaker Emerita”. Pelosi has said she will remain in Congress and continue to represent California’s 12th congressional district, which includes much of the Bay Area, as a backbencher.
The reshuffle comes as Democrats performed better than expected in the midterm elections in congressional races across the country. But Republicans eked out a narrow majority in the House, meaning Jeffries will not succeed Pelosi as Speaker.
McCarthy, meanwhile, will need to secure the support of at least 218 members of his own party if he is to take up the Speaker’s gavel. In a closed-door meeting of Republicans earlier this month, he was re-elected as party leader by a margin of 188 to 31 votes, after Andy Biggs, the Republican lawmaker from Arizona, ran against him.
Hoyer praised the Democrats’ relative unity on Tuesday, telling reporters the changing of the guard was a boon for the party and the wider country.
“What you saw last week was a change of generational leadership within our party in a very unified fashion, which I think is good for our party, I think it’s good for the country,” Hoyer said. “We are getting in Mr Jeffries an extraordinarily capable leader.”