Rep. Hakeem Jeffries poised to succeed Pelosi, would be 1st Black leader in Congress

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday announced she will relinquish her leadership role after Republicans clinched majority control of the chamber, opening the door for a new leader of the Democratic caucus.

“I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi, 82, said in a speech on the House floor. “For me, the hour’s come for a new generation to lead.”

In 2002, Pelosi became the first woman elected as a party leader in Congress. In 2007, she became the first woman elected speaker of the House.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking Democrat in the House behind Pelosi, said Thursday he will also step down from his leadership role.

According to news reports, both Pelosi and Hoyer will back Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., to succeed her as the next leader of the Democratic caucus.

If elected, Jeffries would be the first Black and first nonwhite party leader in Congress. Leadership elections are scheduled for Nov. 30.

Who is Hakeem Jeffries?

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries at a news conference on Capitol Hill on July 19. (Mariam Zuhaib/AP) (AP)

The 52-year-old Brooklyn native has served as the U.S. representative for New York’s Eighth Congressional District since 2013. He was previously a member of the state Assembly.

Jeffries cruised to reelection in last week’s midterms, easily defeating Republican challenger Yuri Dashevsky with 72.4% of the vote.

He avoided the fate of other members of New York’s Democratic caucus, which lost four congressional seats — including the one held by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Democratic campaign chairman, charged with protecting his party’s hold on Congress.

Those losses in an overwhelmingly Democratic state stood out in an election in which the party outperformed expectations in both House and Senate races nationally.

Jeffries has held prominent positions on Capitol Hill. In 2018 he defeated Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to become chair of the House Democratic Caucus, making him the fifth-ranking member of the Democratic leadership in the chamber.

In 2020, Jeffries was selected by Pelosi to serve as one of seven House managers to present the impeachment case against then-President Donald Trump during his first impeachment trial before the Senate.

What is his leadership style?

Hakeem Jeffries stands at a podium with a microphone with his hands held up, surrounded by a half dozen others who are seated and apparently applauding.
Jeffries speaks on the House floor, Jan. 3, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) (REUTERS)

Since he was elected to the House in 2012, Jeffries has made it a point to regularly host neighborhood town halls and “Congress on your corner” events to maintain a physical presence on the streets of his New York City district, which includes parts of Brooklyn and a small sliver of Queens.

“From the very beginning … I made the determination that I wanted to try to approximate the same level of effort and connectivity that candidates deploy when campaigning, when it’s time to govern,” he told Yahoo News in 2020. “Many people rightly conclude that it seems as if we only see individuals when they’re seeking office.”

Jeffries calls himself a pragmatic progressive who shares Pelosi’s willingness to embrace more moderate members. “I’m a Nancy Pelosi Democrat,” he said at the time.

But the Democratic establishment has garnered criticism from the party’s left wing. Shortly after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was elected in 2018, a group closely allied with the congresswoman discussed recruiting a primary challenger to run against Jeffries.

At the time, he responded to the potential of a primary threat with a quote from his favorite rapper, Brooklyn’s Notorious B.I.G.

“Spread love,” Jeffries said. “It’s the Brooklyn way.”

Marquise Francis contributed reporting to this story.