Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said that the 117th Congress will be her last term in the position, leaving New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as the front-runner to replace her.
Pelosi reached a deal with a group of Democrats who were against her return to the speakership in 2019, where she agreed that she would serve a maximum of two more terms in the position. Although she has signaled a willingness to go back on the agreement, many Democrats believe that she will retire.
Jeffries has often been mentioned as the next head of the caucus. The number five Democrat in the House, Jeffries would make history as the first black leader of a party in the lower chamber. Majority Whip James Clyburn, who is also black, previously said that he would not run for the top position.
“I think it is very important and would have no problem saying that, if I had a crystal ball, I would want the leadership to be reflective of this wonderful democracy in America we live in,” Congressional Black Caucus chair and Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty said. “Certainly I would like to be able to say that I was part of the process that had the first Black American to be speaker of the U.S. Congress.”
Jeffries has defended members like Democratic California Rep. Maxine Waters and Democratic Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib after the two seemed to condone violence and anti-Semitism. He also described then-President Donald Trump as the “Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Jeffries would likely secure the votes needed to lead House Democrats if they are in the minority. While the Speaker of the House is elected by the whole House, requiring a 218-vote majority, the majority and minority leaders only need the support of a majority of their party’s members.
The math is important due to Jeffries’ sometimes cold relationship with left-wing members of the House. Although he is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), Jeffries has been criticized for the support he gets from banks and charter schools. Justice Democrats, a group aligned with fellow New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, considered fielding a primary challenge against him in 2020, although the threat never came to pass.
Following a series of high-profile losses for left-wing candidates, and the victory of Eric Adams in a full Democratic primary for Mayor of New York, Jeffries slammed “extreme left [a]s obsessed with talking trash about mainstream Democrats on Twitter,” calling their lines of attack “lame.”
Jeffries’ comments could work against him. CPC chair and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal is also considering a run, and will “look at any opportunities that are there,” she said.
“We need to stop blaming progressives in the Squad for all of the problems of the Democratic Party, because that is not true,” New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman, added.