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A generational shift in Democratic leadership

Younger Democrats take over in the House, but their policies and tactics echo their predecessors

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., arrives for leadership elections at the U.S. Capitol. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A generational shift in Democratic leadership

House Democrats have a new leader. The party voted unanimously to replace outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He’s now set to become House minority leader when the new Congress begins in 2023. Here’s a look at what that might mean for the party during the next few years.

Who is Hakeem Jeffries?

Jeffries, 52, represents New York’s 8th Congressional District, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens. He was born and raised in Brooklyn as the son of a social worker and substance abuse counselor. He started his career as a lawyer and won election to the New York Legislature in 2006. He was elected to Congress in 2012. In 2018, his colleagues elected him chair of the House Democratic Caucus, a high-profile position that placed him in close proximity to Pelosi. Jeffries is married with two children.

What is Jeffries best known for?

As a congressman, Jeffries focused on housing issues and criminal justice reform. He helped pass the First Step Act, a criminal justice bill signed by President Donald Trump. Jeffries also served as a manager for Trump’s first impeachment trial. A clip of Jeffries quoting the rapper Notorious B.I.G. during the proceedings went viral.

What issues did Jeffries champion as a New York assemblyman?

Much of Jeffries’ work in the New York Legislature focused on criminal justice reform. He sponsored a successful bill to shut down an NYPD database containing the information of everyone stopped during the now-defunct stop-and-frisk program. Jeffries also advocated classifying marijuana possession as a misdemeanor. He helped pass a bill to ban prison populations from being counted toward electoral districts, arguing that gave Republicans an unfair advantage. He pointed to several New York state senators who “come to Albany on the backs of the incarcerated individuals who are counted as residents of those communities to then vote to sustain the policies that fuel the prison industrial complex.”

In 2010, he opposed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s appointment of Cathleen Black, a business executive, as chancellor of New York City’s public schools because she had not worked as a teacher.

What is Jeffries’ overall political orientation?

Jeffries has been a left-wing progressive throughout his political career. Announcing his first run for Congress in 2011, he said, “My plan is to be part of a progressive movement to bring the country back from the radical right.” He publicly expressed support for gay marriage as early as 2008, four years before President Barack Obama said his views had “evolved” on the issue. Jeffries is pro-abortion, earning a 100 percent rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund each year he has been in Congress.

What kind of minority leader will Jeffries be?

Jeffries is Pelosi’s handpicked successor, so his leadership style likely will closely resemble hers. That would mean steering a course that is decidedly left-wing but avoids giving too much ground to the most progressive members of his party, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York. But since Jeffries pledged to pursue a progressive agenda, he may not set as many boundaries with the party’s more extreme members.

One thing won’t change: Like Pelosi, Jeffries is not shy about directing harsh criticism at Republicans. For example, in January, he said of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, “Does anyone take this guy seriously on any issue, particularly as it relates to ethics?”

Why is Jeffries’ election significant?

Jeffries will be the first African-American to lead a political party in either chamber of Congress. The handover from Pelosi to Jeffries also marks a generational shift. At 52, Jeffries is 30 years younger than his predecessor. And he’s just the first in a new generation of Democratic leaders taking over. Rep. Steny Hoyer, 83, and Rep. James Clyburn, 82, who rank second and third behind Pelosi, also resigned. Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, 43, and Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, 59, will replace them.

Emma Freire

Emma Freire is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. She is a former Robert Novak Journalism Fellow at the Fund for American Studies. She also previously worked at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a Dutch multinational bank. She resides near Baltimore, Md., with her husband and three children.


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