WASHINGTON—In a show of unity after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would be stepping down, Democrats elected U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (Dem., N.Y.) to become minority leader when this session of Congress ends.
The development last week was historic since Congressman Jeffries will become the first Black to lead a major party in Congress.
Actually, a new leadership trio was elected to the team, including U.S. Reps. Jeffries, and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts as No. 2 and Pete Aguilar of California as No. 3.
They will take the reins in January, replacing Speaker Pelosi and her team.
Reps. Jeffries, 52, Clark, 59, and Aguilar, 43, who for years have positione themselves as an unofficial joint slate and unopposed after has led the party for two decades, announced after the midterm elections that she would step aside, paving the way for fresher faces at the top of her party.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, had considered trying to remain in leadership and said he had the support to do so, but ultimately decided against it.
AndU.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California had considered a challenge to Mr. Jeffries for the post of minority leader, but many Democrats said he lacked the votes.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Schiff told Mr. Jeffries that he was instead exploring a run for Senate and wished the representative well in the upcoming leadership election, according to a person familiar with the private conversation who disclosed it on the condition of anonymity.
The mood was jubilant on Wednesday inside the ornate committee hearing room across from the Capitol where Democrats met to elect their new leaders.
“We want Petey Pie!” lawmakers chanted as they nominated Mr. Aguilar, using a nickname his grandmother gave him, according to two people in the room.
At another point, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama led a call-and-response chant for Mr. Jeffries, borrowing a lyric from the rapper Biggie Smalls, whom Mr. Jeffries famously quoted on the Senate floor during former President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Afterward, Mr. Jeffries nodded to the historic nature of his election, saying, “I stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm and others,” a reference to the former representative from his district who in 1968 became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress.
Democrats, for the most part, said they saw the lack of competitive races as a sign of strength and unity, and a stark contrast to the fractured Republican conference.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, is struggling to win the support he needs to become speaker amid a revolt on his right flank. A historically weak midterm performance has handed the G.O.P. a thin House majority for the next Congress, making the job of leading it exceedingly difficult.
“It shows that Democrats are in array, Republicans are in disarray,” said Representative Ted Lieu of California, noting that the new slate of leaders, which includes a Black man, a white woman and a Latino man, “reflects the beautiful diversity of America.” Mr. Lieu, later on Wednesday, won election to be the vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, putting him in line to become the first Asian American to hold that post.
Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said she was excited to have a leader in Mr. Jeffries “who actually does represent the diversity of our caucus.”
In a news conference after the top three jobs were cemented, Mr. Aguilar said that the election showed that “while Kevin McCarthy is auctioning off real estate and square footage for every vote he can, we’re united together.”
Mr. Jeffries said House Democrats held together because they shared a commitment to fighting for “young people, seniors, immigrants, veterans, the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the least, the lost and the left behind.”
From the minority in the House, he said Democrats would “push back against extremism whenever necessary.”
Yet some Democrats called the uncontested election a missed opportunity to discuss how their party was shifting and how it should move forward.
“This is the most significant generational change that we have seen in House Democrats in several decades,” said U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “I personally believe that we would benefit from a debate on what that means.”