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WASHINGTON — Hakeem Jeffries was unanimously elected on Wednesday to become the Democratic Party's top leader in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in January, making him the first Black American to hold such a high-ranking position in Congress.
The vote by Jeffries' fellow Democrats also marked the rise of a younger generation of leaders in the 435-member House and the end of the Nancy Pelosi era. In 2007 Pelosi became the first woman to be elected House speaker.
Jeffries, a 52-year-old New Yorker, will hold the position of House Democratic leader for the 118th Congress that convenes on Jan. 3.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was not surprised that Jeffries, a fellow Brooklynite, was chosen.
"When you're from Brooklyn, you learn quickly traits like persistence and serious mettle... You learn how to work with all kinds of different people. You learn how to stand your ground. You learn to not take things personally," Schumer said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, adding that Jeffries "exemplifies all these traits."
The two leaders live in adjacent neighborhoods in the borough of Brooklyn, just blocks apart from each other.
When he formally announced his candidacy on Nov. 18, following a decade in the House, Jeffries pledged to preside over a caucus that would return power to committee members and give junior lawmakers more say in shaping legislation and being rewarded with high-profile positions.
"Meaningful policymaking and public engagement opportunities should be robustly distributed regardless of length of service," Jeffries wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats.
Also elected as part of Jeffries' team are Rep. Katherine Clark, 59, who is seeking the No. 2 Democratic whip job, and Pete Aguilar, 43, who was elected to Jeffries' current job of Democratic caucus chairman.
"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," Pelosi said in a statement congratulating the trio.
The regime change for Democrats comes at a time when Republicans are set to take majority control of the House as a result of the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
That majority will be slim, with no more than a handful of seats.
Republicans and their leader Kevin McCarthy, who wants to become the next speaker, have put Democrats on notice that they will hit the ground running, launching investigations of administration officials and even President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
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.
They also say they want deep cuts in spending after years of both parties paying little to no attention to rising budget deficits and a national debt that now exceeds $31.3 trillion. Tough new border security initiatives also rank high on the Republican agenda that Democrats will do battle over.
While they made tackling inflation the centerpiece of their 2022 congressional campaigns, Republicans, since narrowly winning control of the House, have said little about that subject.
Octogenarians take backseats
Currently, the principal three House Democratic leadership jobs are held by octogenarians who have been in control for two decades: Pelosi, 82, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, and Majority Whip James Clyburn, 82.
They have been under pressure for years to give way to a younger generation.
The moment for that came after Republicans won the majority, but without the "red wave" of massive wins they had expected — a turn of events that buoyed Democrats.
Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar — representing districts in New York, Massachusetts and California, respectively — bring their own particular strengths to different segments of the Democratic caucus.
Clark has strong ties to House progressives, a group growing in influence, while Aguilar is seen as a bridge to more moderate Democrats and is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Jeffries is a member of the high-profile Congressional Black Caucus.