US House Democrats elect Hakeem Jeffries as first Black party leader

Hakeem Jeffries was unanimously elected on Wednesday to become the Democratic Party’s top leader in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in January, making him the first Black American to hold such a high-ranking position in Congress.

The vote by Jeffries’ fellow Democrats also marked the rise of a younger generation of leaders in the 435-member House, and the end of the Nancy Pelosi era and control by other Democrats in their 80s.

Jeffries, a 52-year-old New Yorker, will hold the position of House Democratic leader for the 118th Congress that convenes on Jan. 3.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was not surprised that Jeffries, a fellow Brooklynite, was chosen.

Coming from Brooklyn means “you learn how to work with all kinds of different people. You learn how to stand your ground. You learn to not take things personally,” Schumer said on Wednesday, adding that Jeffries “exemplifies all these traits.”

The two leaders live just blocks apart in adjacent neighborhoods.

Jeffries formally announced his candidacy on Nov. 18, following a decade in the House, pledging to preside over a caucus that would return power to committee members and give junior lawmakers more say in shaping legislation and being rewarded with high-profile positions.

“Our commitment is always to extend the hand of partnership whenever and wherever possible, in order to get things done for everyday Americans,” Jeffries said, when asked how he will work with Republicans.

Also elected as part of Jeffries’ team are Representative Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts, who won the No. 2 Democratic job, a post known as “whip.” Californian Pete Aguilar, 43, and a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was elected to Jeffries’ current job of Democratic caucus chairman.

Their elections mean that for the first time in either party, the top three party roles are held by women or people of color.

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