House Democrats elect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as leader, the first Black person to lead a congressional caucus

 House Democrats elected their new leadership team Wednesday, ushering in a younger generation of leaders after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer decided to step aside after Democrats narrowly lost the majority this month.

Pelosi, 82, of California, the first female speaker of the House, will pass the torch to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., 52, who ran unopposed for minority leader and will make history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a political party’s caucus in either chamber.

“Today, with immense pride, I stood in front of the House Democratic Caucus as a candidate for Democratic Leader, and I am eternally grateful for the trust my colleagues placed in me with their votes,” Jeffries said in a statement.

Jeffries’ top deputy will be Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., 59, a progressive who served under Jeffries as vice chair of the Democratic Caucus and rose to assistant speaker this Congress. She was elected minority whip, the party’s top vote counter.

Rounding out the trio of new leaders is Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., 43, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member and former mayor of Redlands who was elected Democratic Caucus chairman — the role Jeffries has held for the past four years.

The elections of Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar represent a changing of the guard for House Democrats, who have seen the powerful triumvirate of Pelosi, Hoyer, D-Md., 83, and Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., 82, occupy top leadership posts for the past two decades.

“This is a moment of transition,” Jeffries told a small group of reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday night. “We stand on the shoulders of giants but are also looking forward to being able to do what’s necessary at this moment to advance the issues.”

Of the current “Big Three” Democrats, only Clyburn, the current majority whip, has opted to stay in leadership in the new Congress. He will run for the job of “assistant leader,” which has been considered the No. 3 post in the minority in the past but will shift to the No. 4 job this Congress.

Clyburn’s decision frustrated some younger members, who had hoped the new Congress would start with a clean slate. On Wednesday, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., 61, announced a surprise bid against Clyburn for assistant leader; that election will take place Thursday.

In a letter to colleagues announcing his run, Cicilline said, “I think it is critical that the House Democratic Leadership team fully reflect the diversity of our caucus and the American people by including an LGBTQ+ member at the leadership table, which is why I’ve decided to run for Assistant Leader.”

A young Democratic member who is backing Cicilline expressed frustration Wednesday with Clyburn’s decision to run for leadership again. “I think it’s pretty ridiculous that Nancy had to leave. … She was the most effective leader in history, and I’m not sure why he [Clyburn] didn’t have to leave with her,” the Democrat said.