- With Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected exit from leadership, Democratic leaders ponder the future.
- House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries is seen as the favorite to succeed Pelosi.
- Democrats have had the same leadership team in the top three positions for nearly 20 years.
When Democrats regained control of the House in 2018, sixteen party members signed a letter expressing opposition to Nancy Pelosi’s ascension to the speakership.
At that point, Pelosi had led the House Democratic caucus since 2003 — and had previously served as speaker from 2007 to 2011 — and despite the pushback, she still had broad support from most members.
In December 2018, Pelosi came to an agreement that would limit her tenure to four years as speaker, and she went on to earn the support of many of the moderate and newly-elected lawmakers who were initially resistant to her leadership.
The speaker can point to many consequential pieces of legislation that she shepherded through the House, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Affordable Care Act, along with muscling President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda through a closely-divided House.
However, with the 2022 midterm elections in sight, Pelosi, 81, is expected to leave her post at the end of the current Congress, with Democrats anticipating a huge leadership shift that will define their party for years to come as a new generation takes hold, according to The Washington Post.
For as long as Pelosi has led the caucus, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, 82, has served as both the majority leader and minority whip, while Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, 81, has been the majority whip and the party’s assistant Democratic leader.
In the coming years, though, the party’s House leadership team is set to be dramatically different.
‘He’s brilliant, he’s smooth, but he is fearless’
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the current chair of the House Democratic Caucus, is the favorite to succeed Pelosi when she steps down from her position, but a debate over who will serve in leadership has just started and could potentially expose a deep gulf between progressives and moderates, according to The Post.
With a growing progressive wing of the party coming into its own, there will likely be a reckoning on how the party will counter the GOP, which is still overwhelmingly defined by the influence of former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a progressive who has been an influential liaison to the Biden White House, told The Post that the next generation of leadership will have to listen intently to members.
“I think we want leadership that bridges some of the different ideological wings of the party, that is committed to listening to all of the perspectives, that will be capable of helping move the Senate or things that have stalled in the House, and has a bold vision of what we need to achieve for the American public,” he said.
He continued: “But whoever it is, I hope they would adopt progressive positions and also listen to the broad caucus and build consensus.”
The Post interviewed over two dozen lawmakers, with members expressing deep respect for Pelosi — but with some lawmakers also eager for different leadership style.
Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, a moderate, wants to see a leader in the mold of Pelosi.
“I want to make sure that it is someone who can pull the party together,” he told the Post.
He continued: “As Pelosi says: ‘Our diversity is our strength, and unity is our power.’ I want to make sure it’s someone who can hold that unity.”
However, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington State, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, suggested that a more decentralized nucleus of power might prove to be more effective.
“I think there was a ‘holding of power’ model that worked very well for a long time, and I think now it is more about a recognition of different centers of focus within the Democratic caucus that have to be brought in and brought together,” she told The Post.
Members interviewed by The Post stated that Pelosi’s replacement should also be as historically significant as her status as the chamber’s first female speaker.
If Jeffries succeeds Pelosi, he would become the first Black person in US history to lead a chamber of Congress.
The members who were interviewed by The Post overwhelmingly viewed Jeffries as a skilled communicator, and one lawmaker who backs Jeffries’ ascension spoke of his style in glowing terms.
“He’s brilliant, he’s smooth, but he is fearless,” the lawmaker said. “I mean, if we are fighting for something, I want Hakeem Jeffries on my side because he will go to the mat on an issue.”
Hoyer and Rep. Adam Schiff, whose national profile has soared as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, are both eyeing a run to succeed Pelosi, according to The Post.
And Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California are seen as part of the next contingent of House leaders, per the report.
A major concern that has been raised among members is the realization that huge changes could result in the loss of stability that has come to define the Democratic caucus under Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn — as opposed to the House Republican Caucus, which is often mired in infighting.
“She understands how to get things done and how to keep us together, even if it looks a little bit messy from the outside,” a Democratic member told The Post.
When Pelosi was asked during a November 2020 news conference if she would relinquish the speaker’s gavel after the 117th Congress, she pointed to her prior commitment.
“What I said then is whether it passes or not, I will abide by those limits that are there,” she said.
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