Hakeem Jeffries selected as caucus chair by Democrats
House Democrats on Wednesday selected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a rising party star, to be their caucus chair when they retake the majority in the new year.
Mr. Jeffries, a 48-year-old serving his third term, bested Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a 20-year veteran of the chamber, in a 123-to-113 vote.
Both are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, reflecting the diversity among Democrats who will seize the House gavels for the first time in eight years.
Mr. Jeffries said the caucus will be “member-driven” and focus “like a laser beam” on making sure they have a successful two years.
“We won the majority. Now, we have to keep the majority,” he said. “In order to do that, we have to get work done on behalf of the American people.”
Mr. Jeffries ticked off a list of priorities that Democrats campaigned on before an Election Day romp in which they swiped nearly 40 seats from Republicans.
He wants to protect insurance for people with preexisting medical conditions, increase pay for workers, draft a “real infrastructure plan” and sweep out corruption from Washington.
The race was a hotly contested undercard to marquee votes that will unfold behind closed doors later in the day, when Democrats indicate how much support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has for the speaker’s gavel and choose their majority leader and whip.
As chairman-elect, Mr. Jeffries will lead caucus meetings, starting with additional votes later Wednesday.
“It’s like the shortest transition in American history,” he quipped.
Caucus chairmen are limited to two consecutive full terms.
Mr. Jeffries will take over for Rep. Joe Crowley, a fellow New Yorker who lost his primary to a progressive standout, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
His victory seemed to reflect an appetite among some Democrats for younger leadership.
A rump group opposing Mrs. Pelosi’s return to the speaker’s position says turnover is needed. The main leaders of the party Mrs. Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. James Clyburn are all in their 70s and have served as the top-three for over a decade.
Mr. Jeffries was floated as a potential alternative to Mrs. Pelosi for speaker early on, though the congressman opted to gun for a lower rung on the leadership ladder.
The race for caucus chair was close, however, and some called it a missed opportunity to elevate minority women who’ve served as the backbone of the Democratic electorate.
Democracy for America, a progressive political action committee, tweeted that Ms. Lee’s defeat was a “real missed opportunity to break a glass ceiling for #BlackWomen on Capitol Hill have an unabashed progressive champion on the House leadership team.”
After the vote, Ms. Lee suggested that ageism and sexism are still “institutional barriers” on Capitol Hill and in society at large.
“We’ll just keep fighting,” she said.
Mr. Jeffries said the race was a “friendly contest of ideas,” and he hopes to move forward as a united caucus.