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Semafor LogoKadia Goba
Kadia Goba
politics

Meet the new Democratic leadership

Kadia is a Political Reporter for Semafor, joining us from Buzzfeed News. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.

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After being run by a trio of older party stalwarts for much of the last two decades, House Democrats are about to welcome a new generation of leaders in their forties and fifties.

The new trio of Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar are expected to take over without serious competition. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis. told Semafor they were "a real dream team" with broad party support.

Here’s what you need to know about the new class expected to take over for Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. speaking at a Congressional Black Caucus event.
REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Hakeem Jeffries

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Jeffries is poised to be the first Black member of Congress to lead either party in the House. The 52-year-old Brooklynite worked at the powerhouse law firm Paul, Weiss and served in the New York State Assembly before winning his current seat in 2012. Legislatively, he has focused on criminal justice reform, helping to pass the bipartisan First Step Act that was signed by Donald Trump.

Long considered Pelosi’s heir apparent, he’s been a close ally of the speaker’s during his time as Democratic Caucus Chair; he’s also been known to peruse biographies of previous House leaders, paying particular attention to the words they’ve used to address their caucuses. Perhaps relatedly, Jeffries likes to quote rap lyrics, and dropped a line from the Notorious B.I.G. into his closing speech during Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, in which he served as one of the House managers. The line: "And if you don't know, now you know."

Endorsement

“As a millennial, I'm excited to see a new generation of leadership in Congress,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y. told Semafor. “And I look forward to seeing Hakeem Jeffries become the first person of color to lead.”

Where does he fit in the party?

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Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but has very publicly clashed with the party’s left flank, which has criticized his reliance on Wall Street donors. At the same time, some potential leadership rivals have questioned his ability to fundraise effectively. In defense, his team has said that “the money follows the position.”

Notable quotable

“I’m a Black progressive Democrat concerned with addressing racial and social and economic injustice with the fierce urgency of now…There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.” (source: The Atlantic)

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass.
Flickr/MPAC

Katherine Clark

Clark, the 59-year old Massachusetts Congresswoman set to become minority whip, is the quiet one in the band. First elected in a 2013 special election, she previously served in a pair of lower-profile leadership roles working closely with freshmen members, and was once rumored to be a potential challenger to Jeffries.

Endorsement

“She’s a progressive, I understand that. But she respects diversity of thought and that's what makes the caucus stronger. It’s something I’ve always admired about her,” Blue Dog Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas told Semafor.

Where does she fit in the party?

A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Clark isn’t known as a firebrand but has been quietly positioning herself for leadership by building close ties with powerful women across Washington. In 2015, she stopped dying her hair —now a signature gray— and has since championed women redefining so-called traditional standards of beauty and professionalism.

Notable quotable

"I think there is something about women’s leadership styles that are built on listening, building consensus and listening not just to people — our constituents — but also to my colleagues that come from different districts, have different concerns, different pressures than I do.” (source: Axios).

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. at a press conference.
C-SPAN

Pete Aguilar

“A Latino working class kid makes good” is how one aide described 43-year old Rep. Peter Aguilar. The incoming Minority Caucus Chair has been pegged for years as a rising star well-liked across party factions. He was mayor of Redlands, California prior to winning his congressional bid in 2014 when he flipped a Republican-held seat.

Under Trump, Aguilar led a failed bipartisan effort to craft an immigration bill combining new border security measures with protections for DACA recipients. He recently achieved some national prominence as a member of the Jan.6 panel investigating the Capitol riot.

Endorsement

"Since the day we first met, Pete has been focused on one thing — building bridges between every corner of the Caucus to help get legislation across the finish line," Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. told Semafor. "Pete is sharp, shrewd, and selfless — always looking out for other members and his constituents in California. He will make an excellent chairman."

Where does he fit in the party?

Aguilar is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of Congressional lawmakers with a reputation as pro-business moderates.

Notable quotable

“I think that there’s benefit to being a relatively junior House member from California. From where I’m from, in the shadows of Los Angeles…nobody from my neck of the woods runs for statewide office, so that door has been closed.” (Source: Politico)

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