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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries announces bid to replace Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader

Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, said Friday that he will run to replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the party’s leader after Republicans took back control of the chamber in last week’s midterm elections.

His announcement in a letter to colleagues came a day after Pelosi said in a powerful floor speech that she is stepping down after a two-decade reign as the top leader of House Democrats.

If Jeffries is successful, it would represent a historic passing of the torch: Pelosi made history as the first female speaker of the House, while Jeffries, the current Democratic Caucus chairman, would become the first Black leader of a congressional caucus and highest-ranking Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill. If Democrats were to retake control of the House — a real possibility with Republicans having such a narrow majority — Jeffries would be in line to be the first Black speaker in the nation’s history.

The ascension of the 52-year-old Jeffries to minority leader would also represent generational change. Pelosi and her top two deputies — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. — are all in their 80s and are receiving from within the party for “new blood” in leadership; Hoyer will not seek another leadership post while Clyburn plans to stay on and work with the next generation.

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., announced her candidacy for Democratic Whip, the No. 2 spot in leadership, in her own “dear colleague” letter earlier Friday morning. Clark, who is 59, and Jeffries appear to have locked up support for the two top jobs.

Pelosi has not yet weighed in on who she’d like to see as her successor, but Hoyer and Clyburn both lined up behind Jeffries for leader on Thursday.

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Clyburn, a towering figure in the caucus and close ally of President Joe Biden, called his protege Jeffries “absolutely fantastic” and signaled support for a full slate of younger set of leaders taking the reins of the Democratic leadership apparatus: Jeffries, Clark, and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

Clyburn said in a statement he will do “whatever I can to assist our new generation of Democratic Leaders which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar.”

Added Hoyer: “Well, I think it’s always good for a party to have new blood and new invigoration, new enthusiasm, and new ideas.”

It’s clear that Jeffries is the hands-down favorite for the job. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had explored challenging Jeffries for the top job but dropped his bid Wednesday and instead will look at a potential run for the Senate, according to a source familiar with his planning. No other challengers have emerged.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, said Thursday she was confident that the powerful bloc of more than 50 Black lawmakers would line up behind Jeffries.

“I’m very comfortable saying I believe that every member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries,” Beatty told reporters Thursday.

NBC News projected Wednesday that Republicans will control the House for the next two years — but it will be a narrow majority, likely similar to the one Democrats have had since 2021.

Before Pelosi made her announcement, Hoyer grinned when asked whether House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is running for speaker, will be able to govern with a small majority.

“We’ll see! Mr. Ryan and Mr. Boehner found it difficult,” Hoyer said.

Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner both had larger majorities than the new one will be.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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