House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries is believed to be the leading candidate to replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader after her decision to step down, which she announced from the well of the House Thursday.
Jeffries, 52, a five-term New York Democrat, represents a major Democratic power center in New York City – just as Pelosi represents a similar stronghold in San Francisco.
Jeffries would inject a relative element of youth into a Democratic leadership that includes three octogenarians at the top. He also brings to the table experience in a leadership position that some others don’t have, strong support from many in the party establishment, and respect from even some Republicans. Jeffries was also an impeachment manager for former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
But in a House Democratic caucus that’s become increasingly progressive in recent years, Jeffries could very well face a challenge from his left flank. The New York Democrat, however, also has a deep bench of support from the more than 50-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
“I’m very comfortable saying I believe that every member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries,” said CBC Chariwoman Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio.
By the current leadership chart, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is second in-line to replace Pelosi. The 83-year-old Maryland Democrat has served as Pelosi’s top deputy in the House leadership for nearly 20 years.
Hoyer is well-liked by colleagues and commands respect for his legislative knowledge. The Maryland lawmaker, if he runs, is likely to present himself as bridge to the next generation of Democrats in a time when the party’s other leaders are untested.
The argument could be buoyed by the narrow margin that Republicans will hold in the House come January.
At the low end, the GOP is expected to hold a 218-seat majority, the bare minimum needed to control the House. If Republicans sweep all outstanding races, including some in which Democrats are favored, the majority could reach as high as 226 seats.
Hoyer’s allies say electing a leader who has not run the chamber before could put Democrats at a disadvantage. It remains to be seen if the argument will win out, especially among lawmakers eager for fresh and younger leaders. or if Hoyer will even challenge Jeffries
Another potential contender is Rep. Prmaila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus and has long been speculated to have leadership ambitions.
Over the past two years, Jayapal has worked hard to push Pelosi and House Democrats to the left by threatening to derail President Biden’s legislative initiatives, including the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, unless they were tailored to progressive priorities.
While Jayapal and progressives succeeded in delaying Biden’s agenda, it came at the expense of drawing criticism from moderates, especially the nearly 100-member New Democrat Coalition.
Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., is a big-state Democrat with establishment credibility. She’s also in her 50s, like Jeffries, giving her more youth than Clyburn or Hoyer. But she may not seek the speaker spot if Jeffries is the front-runner. The Atlantic reported earlier this year the pair aim to advance their careers as allies.
Outgoing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has been rumored to be planning a leadership bid for months.
In recent days, however, Schiff’s allies have said the Californian is leaning more towards running for the U.S. Senate if Dianne Feinstein retires in 2024 as expected.