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For House Democrats, a generational changing of the guard

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked about “a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus,” she wasn’t kidding.


UPDATE (Nov. 30, 2022, 11:40 a.m. ET): House Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York as leader. He will be the first Black lawmaker to lead a party's congressional caucus in either chamber.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she would not seek another term in the House Democratic leadership, the California congresswoman quickly added, “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect. And I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”

It wasn’t long before we learned who, exactly, the awesome responsibility would fall upon. NBC News reported this morning:

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. ... 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.

At least for now, Jeffries doesn’t appear to have any rivals. His odds of becoming the House minority leader in the next Congress are quite good.

But this isn’t a situation in which Democrats are making minor changes: Soon after Pelosi announced her plans, incumbent House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he’s stepping down from his leadership post, too.

It sets the stage for an entirely new House Democratic leadership team for the first time in 20 years: Jeffries appears on track to be the minority leader, while Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts will likely be the House minority whip and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California will likely be the Democratic conference chairman.

For all the drama in Republican politics about the GOP’s leadership team on Capitol Hill, for the time being, things appear far less tumultuous in the new House minority. All of this is counterintuitive: One would ordinarily expect the party that gained power to be more united than the party that lost power.

And yet, here we are.

But perhaps the most striking element of these developments is the literal generational shift: Pelosi is 82. So is incumbent Majority Whip James Clyburn. Hoyer is 83.

In contrast, Jeffries is 52, Clark is 59, and Aguilar is 43. In other words, the oldest member of the incoming Democratic leadership team is nearly a quarter-century younger than the youngest member of the current Democratic leadership team.

When Pelosi talked about “a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus,” she wasn’t kidding.

As for Clyburn, the South Carolinian is the only member of the current leadership team who is sticking around, though he will apparently hold a more advisory role as the assistant minority leader.