Hakeem Jeffries makes history as 1st Black party leader in Congress

House Democrats elected him to succeed Nancy Pelosi.

House Democrats on Wednesday elected a historic new generation of leaders.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York will succeed Nancy Pelosi as leader of the Democratic Caucus.

The 52-year-old Jeffries will be the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.

Hakeem Jeffries arrives for leadership elections where he is expected to become the top Democrat in the House when Nancy Pelosi steps down as speaker, at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 30, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The whip will be a woman -- Katherine Clark of Massachusetts -- and the No. 3, Pete Aguilar of California, will become the highest-ranking Latino in Congress after rising in prominence from his perch on the high-profile Jan. 6 committee.

Rep. Katherine Clark arrives for a leadership election meeting with the Democratic caucus in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill, Nov. 30, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Elections took place behind closed doors and members voted by secret ballot. All three ran unopposed.

In a statement following his election, Jeffries said he and his newly elected colleagues will inherit their roles from "iconic" predecessors and work with the "seriousness and solemnity" of the present political moment.

"I am particularly humbled to be accepting this honor alongside my friends and partners in leadership, incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark and incoming Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar. Katherine represents another important crack in the glass ceiling, a trailblazer in the tradition of Speaker Pelosi," he said. "She makes all of us feel seen and heard and will work tirelessly to support our Democratic Caucus. I have watched how Pete brings people together to get things done, rolling up his sleeves as only a former Mayor can do. Katherine, Pete and I will work closely together fighting hard for everyday Americans."

Outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi greets Rep. Hakeem Jeffries after speaking in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on Nov. 17, 2022.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Pelosi issued a statement congratulating her successor, as well as Clark and Aguilar.

"Congratulations to Leader-designate Hakeem Jeffries, Whip-designate Katherine Clark and Chairman-designate Pete Aguilar! Together, this new generation of leaders reflects the vibrancy and diversity of our great nation -- and they will reinvigorate our Caucus with their new energy, ideas and perspective. Now, with the fullest confidence of our Members, our new Leaders are well-prepared to carry on Democrats' fight for working families and defense of Democracy," she said.

On the Senate floor ahead of the elections, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the "momentous" and historic nature of the newly elected leadership: the advancement of the first Black American to lead a chamber of Congress, the first Latino American to occupy a No. 3 slot.

"Hakeem Jeffries' elevation as House Democratic Leader is a turning point in the history of the United States Congress. Never before has an African American leader - or any leader of color - held the top position for either party in either chamber," he said.

The ushering in of new leadership follows Pelosi's pre-Thanksgiving announcement of her intention to step away from her role after 20 years. In her remarks before declaring her decision, the 82-year-old leader said she wanted to pave a way for a "new generation" of oversight in the Democratic party.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 82, also announced they would step aside from their leadership posts shortly after Pelosi's declaration.

"The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect," she said.

Rep. Pete Aguilar walks past the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 17, 2022.
Andrew Harnik/AP, FILE

Jeffries, along with Clark, 59; and Aguilar, 43, mark a generational shift to House Democrats' top spots.

Schumer on Wednesday sentimentally noted the changing of the guard before taking a moment to praise his fellow Brooklynite, whom he's known for years.

"Today's gathering is unlike anything we've seen before. For one, it signals the end of a magnificent era. As my dear friend Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chosen to step down from leadership. We'll never see someone like Speaker Pelosi ever again in our lifetime. But her potential successor will be history making in its own right," he began.

"Now I've known Hakeem Jeffries for a long time, since before the days he was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 2006. When I first met him, I thought the same thing I thought when I first met Speaker Pelosi, here's someone who has it all."

The White House congratulated Jeffries on his historic new role.

"The president, I should say, sends his heartfelt congratulations to his friend, Congressman Jeffries, as he marks profoundly important history, becoming the first Black leader of either party, in either chamber of Congress," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told ABC News' Elizabeth Schulze during the daily press briefing.

The 118th Congress won't be sworn in until January. Republicans have been projected to regain control of the House, with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy at its helm after clinching the Republican nomination for speaker.

Jeffries, in a statement following his election, noted his willingness to work with Republicans while continuing to fight for his party's priorities.

"We are going to continue to put People Over Politics and fight for all our values. House Democrats will lift up working families, the middle class and those who aspire to be part of it, young people and senior citizens, veterans, the poor, the sick and the afflicted and the least, the lost and the left behind," he said in a statement.

"We will look for common ground with Republicans whenever and wherever possible, but oppose extremism on the other side of the aisle whenever necessary."

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