Rep. Hakeem Jeffries was elected Democratic Caucus chairman Wednesday, defeating Rep. Barbara Lee for the No. 5 leadership post in a 123-113 vote.
Jeffries, 48, has been in Congress for only six years but is already often mentioned by younger members as a future party leader.
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He was a lead architect of House Democrats’ messaging strategy during the campaign as co-chair of the caucus’ communications committee. He’s also notched several bipartisan wins, including a prison reform bill that overwhelmingly passed the House and is backed by President Donald Trump.
Lee, 72, is a twenty-year incumbent and former chairwoman of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
She has been a champion of anti-poverty efforts and is perhaps best known for casting the lone vote against authorizing military force shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
Lee brushed aside questions about her age — the top three Democratic leaders are also in their seventies — and instead pitched herself as a history-maker. Lee would have been the first African-American woman to serve in House leadership had she been elected.
Both Lee and Jeffries are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and the race exposed divisions among the normally tight-knit group over geography — he’s a New Yorker, she’s a Californian — and seniority.
The biggest issue facing House Democrats on Wednesday remains Nancy Pelosi’s future.
Pelosi will win an overwhelming majority inside the caucus to be speaker, although she has modified the internal caucus ballot so that vulnerable members will be able to vote “no” on her nomination.
Yet the California Democrat still faces opposition from a group of roughly 20 Democratic incumbents and incoming freshmen who oppose her return to the speaker’s chair. These lawmakers argue that giving Pelosi’s the speaker’s gavel won’t provide the new leadership they promised voters on Election Day. They also believe Pelosi as speaker jeopardizes their hold on swing districts in 2020.
However, Democrats were able to win the House this year despite the GOP spending tens of millions of dollars on TV ads linking Democratic candidates and incumbents to Pelosi.
And the California Democrat — a master of such battles — has slowly been whittling away at her opposition, peeling off opponents with offers of committee seats or votes on their legislative priorities.