On Wednesday, Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives elected New York Congressman Hakeem Jefferies as their new leader, following Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that she is stepping down from the role.
Jefferies will assume the role of House minority leader when the new Congress is sworn in this January and is the first Black American to lead a major political party in Congress. Jefferies was born and raised in Brooklyn. His district covered parts of Brooklyn and Queens and was once represented by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in Congress.
In a show of cohesion and unity, House Democrats unanimously elected Jefferies to the position, together with Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark as Whip and California Representative Pete Aguilar as Caucus Chair. They will take over from Pelosi’s long-serving deputies, Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer and South Carolina Representative James Clyburn.
In contrast, following a mid-term election that did not go as expected, the incoming Republican majority has yet to coalesce around a leader. The current minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, has been attempting to obtain the votes necessary to be elected speaker but has encountered significant dissension in the ranks. According to the Washington Post, at least five Republican congressmen are opposed to McCarthy, endangering his bid and raising the possibility of a floor fight for speaker, which hasn’t happened in 100 years.
The Republican’s slim majority and McCarthy’s difficulties in controlling his caucus will likely present opportunities to Jefferies and the Democrats. Jefferies has said that he will look for opportunities to work with Republicans but will “push back against extremism whenever necessary.”