In a statement, Jeffries paid tribute to Pelosi but did not mention his plans to seek the leadership job, although his move has been widely reported. Pelosi “is the most accomplished Speaker in American history and our country is undoubtedly better for her extraordinary leadership.” He went on to call her “a steady hand on the hammer during some of the most troubled times the nation has ever faced.”
Jeffries, in a nod to the rise of history in the House, added: “The president often reminds us that our diversity is our strength. I know we will draw on that wisdom as we come together as a Caucus to start a new chapter.”
One of Pelosi’s longtime colleagues, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), announced that he will also step down from his leadership post. Jeffries will be joined by Reps. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), who will seek the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, respectively.
Rep. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.) will leave his post as House majority whip but will become an assistant leader, a position that will now be fourth in the leadership structure.
Jeffries, a lawyer, hails from central Brooklyn, the epicenter of New York’s Democratic power. He is a self-described progressive who has forged relationships with Democratic establishment figures in Washington while sailing up to the left in his backyard.
He took office in 2013 and has been chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a leadership post, since 2019. In that role, he was the youngest member of the leadership.
With their move on Thursday, House Democrats were on the cusp of a significant generational shift — from octogenarians like Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn, to Jeffries; Clark, 59; and Aguilar, 43. Leadership elections are the week of Nov. 28, and the party appears unified behind the new slate.
In an interview with the Atlantic last year, Jeffries described where he fits into today’s political landscape, saying, “I’m a progressive Black Democrat who is concerned with addressing racial, social and economic injustice with fierce urgency right now.” He added, “There will never be a moment when I bend the knee to hard left democratic socialism.”
Jeffries, a graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton, Georgetown and New York University Law School, was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 2006, after unsuccessfully challenging a Democratic representative favored by Brooklyn Democratic machine Roger Green. After Jeffries lost a challenge before Green, Democratic lawmakers promptly drew the assembly district to exclude Jeffries’ home at the time.
The blatant move to stifle a young, striving political talent became the subject of a 2010 documentary on gerrymandering. In this film, Jeffries was the reform-minded politician who challenged the establishment.
Jeffries was elected to Congress in 2012 after longtime Rep. Ed Towns abruptly announced that he would not seek re-election. Jeffries was expected to win heavily after Towns’ departure but suddenly faced a primary challenge from Charles Barron, a Black Panther and longtime New York officer. Fears that Brooklyn could send Barron to Congress prompted a national effort by establishment Democrats to support Jeffries, which proved successful.
Once in Congress, Jeffries represented not only a mix of liberal and establishment politics, but also youthful Brooklyn swagger.
He once paid tribute to slain rapper Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious BIG Jeffries, who called Wallace “the classic embodiment of the American dream.”
He invoked several of the rapper’s stage names in 2017, adding: “Biggie Smalls, Frank White, the king of New York. He died 20 years ago today in a tragedy that occurred in Los Angeles. But his words live forever.”
Jeffries then raps the lyrics to one of the rapper’s most celebrated songs, “Juicy”: “It was all a dream / I used to read Word Up magazine / Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine / Hangin’ photo of me. wall/ Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.”
In 2015, Jeffries considered running for mayor of New York City, as then-Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio failed to deliver on his campaign promise of sweeping changes to the city’s much-criticized police tactics.
In 2020, Jeffries served as the impeachment manager in President Donald Trump’s first trial, a reflection of Pelosi’s confidence in him.
Jeffries also helped sharpen the Democrats’ message as he frequently hit the campaign trail and was available for interviews with reporters.
In 2020, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called for Joe Biden to suspend his presidential campaign during the Senate trial of Trump. When a reporter asked Jeffries about McCarthy’s comments, Jeffries, writing for the New York Times, simply replied, “Who?”
If elected Democratic leader, Jeffries will find himself tangled with McCarthy, who is seeking the Republican House seat next year.