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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries announces bid to replace Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader

If elected, Jeffries, 52, would become the first Black leader of a congressional caucus. Reps. Katherine Clark, 59, and Pete Aguilar, 43, are seeking to join Jeffries in Democrats’ top three.

WASHINGTON — New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, said Friday that he will run to replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the party's leader after Republicans took back control of the chamber in last week’s midterm elections.

His announcement in a letter to colleagues came a day after Pelosi said in a powerful floor speech that she is stepping down after a two-decade reign as the top leader of House Democrats.

If Jeffries is successful, it would represent a historic passing of the torch: Pelosi made history as the first female speaker of the House, while Jeffries, the current Democratic Caucus chairman, would become the first Black leader of a congressional caucus and highest-ranking Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill. If Democrats were to retake control of the House — a real possibility with Republicans having such a narrow majority — Jeffries would be in line to be the first Black speaker in the nation's history.

The ascension of the 52-year-old Jeffries to minority leader would also represent generational change. Pelosi and her top two deputies — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. — are all in their 80s and are receiving from within the party for “new blood” in leadership; Hoyer will not seek another leadership post while Clyburn plans to stay on and work with the next generation.

Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., are seeking to round out the new leadership team, announcing Friday that they will run for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in leadership. Clark, 59, announced a bid for Democratic Whip, while Aguilar, 43, is running for Democratic Caucus Chair.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., at the Capitol on Nov. 17, 2022.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., at the Capitol on Nov. 17, 2022.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

Pelosi endorsed all three to succeed her leadership team in a statement Friday, saying they are "ready and willing to assume this awesome responsibility." Clyburn has also endorsed the three, while Hoyer backed Jeffries for leader on Thursday.

“In the 118th Congress, House Democrats will be led by a trio that reflects our beautiful diversity of our nation," Pelosi said. "Chair Jeffries, Assistant Speaker Clark and Vice Chair Aguilar know that, in our Caucus, diversity is our strength and unity is our power."

Clyburn, a towering figure in the caucus and close ally of President Joe Biden, called his protege Jeffries "absolutely fantastic" and signaled support for a full slate of younger set of leaders taking the reins of the Democratic leadership apparatus: Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar.

Clyburn said in a letter to colleagues Friday he will run for Assistant Democratic Leader in the next Congress "to work alongside our new generation of Democratic Leaders which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar.”

Added Hoyer: "Well, I think it’s always good for a party to have new blood and new invigoration, new enthusiasm, and new ideas.”

It's clear that Jeffries is the hands-down favorite for the job. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had explored challenging Jeffries for the top job but dropped his bid Wednesday and instead will look at a potential run for the Senate, according to a source familiar with his planning. No other challengers have emerged.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, said Thursday she was confident that the powerful bloc of more than 50 Black lawmakers would line up behind Jeffries.

“I’m very comfortable saying I believe that every member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries,” Beatty told reporters Thursday.

NBC News projected Wednesday that Republicans will control the House for the next two years — but it will be a narrow majority, likely similar to the one Democrats have had since 2021.

Before Pelosi made her announcement, Hoyer grinned when asked whether House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is running for speaker, will be able to govern with a small majority.

“We’ll see! Mr. Ryan and Mr. Boehner found it difficult,” Hoyer said.

Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner both had larger majorities than the new one will be.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.