New Leadership for the 118th Congress

Update 652 — House Democrats Elect
New Leadership for the 118th Congress

The House Democratic leadership triumvirate of Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn has paved the way for succession by a new generation of Democratic Caucus leaders, approved by acclamation of the Caucus earlier today. The Caucus will now be led by Brooklynite Hakeem Jeffries as House Minority Leader, supported by Katherine Clark of Massachusetts as Democratic Whip, and Pete Aguilar of California as Democratic Caucus Chair. 

This transfer of power — peaceable and uncontested — will bring the average age of leadership down by thirty years, overnight. The new slate is the culmination of years of work by Speaker Pelosi to prepare for the inevitable changing of the guard. In today’s update we cover the new leadership team and its implications for the Democratic Caucus as well as the new procedural rules adopted to govern the Caucus.




House Democrats: The Next Generation

As the new leadership team settles into its roles, we will see opportunities before them and advocates, to shuffle caucus priorities and bring much-needed attention to key issues. Here is what the new leadership will look like and how the new faces are expected to impact the Caucus:

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries: Hakeem Jeffries will lead Democrats in the House Minority for at least the next two years, vacating valuable seats on the Judiciary and Budget Committees. Jeffries will likely retain seniority on those Committees, should he opt to return to them in the future. His record as a legislator gives us insight as to what issues Jeffries will encourage Democrats to focus on. Chief among these issues is housing. Jeffries has long been an advocate for public housing, with a predominant focus on rehabilitating and improving public housing safety. With a large number of public housing residents in his district, Jeffries has made it a priority to bring attention to their needs. This could mean a revival of the $150 billion housing title from Build Back Better, much of which went toward rehabilitating and building public housing as well as universalizing Section 8 vouchers. 

Minority Whip Katherine Clark: Ultimately charged with counting the votes, the Whip will be a critical player in the upcoming Congress. Clark will also serve as the key negotiator between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and leadership on most issues as the CPC grows in size. We expect progressive lawmakers to see deeper engagement with and input into policy making, as CPC stands as the largest internal caucus within the House Democratic Caucus. Her background in children and family policy will help keep abortion rights, childcare, and paid family leave at the top of the Democratic agenda in her role as an effective Whip. 

Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar: Presiding over caucus meetings, the Democratic Caucus Chair is moving up to the number three position in the Caucus and will be responsible for providing information to Caucus members. Aguilar will be an important voice here due to his work on the House Administration Committee and the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack. He will be able to corral Democrats to defend the importance of the Select Committee’s work as Republicans are almost certain to dismantle it and key policies from the Obama and Biden administrations. 

Turning Over a New Leaf

In one historic transition, the change to Democratic leadership also fundamentally alters the perspectives leading the Caucus going forward. One of the starkest indicators of this is the drop in the average age of leadership. The average age of the current leadership trio is just over 82 years old, while the average age of the new triumvirate is just above 51 years old. 

While Jeffries, Clark, and Aguilar are unlikely to dramatically break from the model laid by Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn, the generational change will potentially shift how Caucus leadership approaches a bevy of issues from pressure campaigns to policy priorities and stances. This is compounded by the new leadership looking even more like the Democratic Party it represents. The broad demographic representation found in this leadership will mesh well with the views of the party writ large. 

The new leadership will still face challenges as they begin their new roles. This is the first holistic leadership change for House Democrats since the early George W. Bush administration. Multiple generations of lawmakers have come and gone. Following their careers of Democratic leadership, Pelosi, Clyburn, and Hoyer will be sticking around the House to help their successors learn the ropes. Clyburn won’t be departing leadership entirely as he will likely take the Assistant Democratic Leader position to provide experienced wisdom to the new trio. 

New Rules

As House Democrats decide on new leadership, they are also deciding on new rules to govern the Caucus. There were several proposed amendments that would impact how Democrats would legislate and work within Congress. On Monday the Committee on Caucus Procedures recommended four rules changes, some of which the Caucus voted on today.

Below are the recommendations from the Committee on Caucus Procedures.

  • Bill Consideration Requirement (Rep. Larson)
    • A new Democratic Caucus rule that would require committee chairs to mark up a bill that is cosponsored by a majority of the Caucus or committee. Floor consideration for any bill that is cosponsored by two-thirds of the Caucus
  • DCCC Chair Amendment (Reps. DelBene, Schneider, Pocan, and Thompson)
    • The Democratic Leader nominates the DCCC Chair instead of the regular Caucus vote.
  • DPCC Structure Amendment (Rep. Cicilline)
    • The Democratic Policy and Communications Committee changes to have one chair and three co-chairs instead of four co-chairs.
  • Battleground Leadership Representative (Rep. Susie Lee)
    • Adds a new position for a Member who was a Frontline or Red to Blue Member.

Below are the notable proposals considered but not adopted by the Committee.

  • Limitations on Chairs of Committees and Subcommittees (Rep. Foster)
    • Limit of six years to be committee chair unless approved on a secret ballot by a majority of the Caucus.
  • Ranked Choice Voting Amendments (Rep. Beyer)
    • Elections for Caucus leadership would be decided by ranked choice voting if there are more than two candidates.
  • Caucus Election Procedures Amendment (Rep. Eshoo)
    • Can waive the secret ballot for chair nominee if two-thirds of the Caucus agree.
  • Committee Temporary Assignments (Rep. Kelly)
    • Temporary committee assignments factor into seniority.
  • Election of Chairs of Subcommittees Amendment (Rep. Sherman)
    • Changes the rules for subcommittee chair elections.
  • Democratic Steering and Policy Committee Amendment (Rep. Case)
    • Increasing the number of members on the Steering Committee.
  • Admittance to and Procedure in Caucus Meetings (Rep. Jackson Lee)
    • Support for members in hybrid and remote meetings.

These changes will ensure the Caucus is well-represented and organized in a way that benefits its members and the broader Democratic constituency. Looking ahead to the 118th Congress, where Republicans have a slim majority with almost no room for error. Democrats’ unity and organization will be critical. The overall rules package for the next Congress is starting to be considered today, but Republicans will have the final say on the rules that govern the full House.

Republicans are currently struggling with their own slate, with Rep. Kevin McCarthy still seeking the 218 votes he needs to become Speaker. The Democratic majority did not always act in unison this Congress, but the shoe is now on the other foot: Republicans are now in disarray with big and unresolved policy and political issues dividing them. 

The end of the 117th Congress marks the close of the Democratic trifecta’s historic era for now and the end of long-held, institutional leadership for the Democratic Party. As the new leaders step into their roles, they will have the support and guidance of those who preceded them. The new generation of leadership is well poised to guide their Caucus and will start in the Minority before they take on the challenge of wrangling a Majority. Democrats have a strong, cohesive Caucus, that while ideologically diverse, has consensus on the leadership team, ensuring a straightforward transition.