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Rising star Hakeem Jeffries announces bid to lead U.S. House Democrats

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U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to reporters after a Democratic Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

U.S. lawmaker Hakeem Jeffries launched a bid on Friday to become Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, a day after the chamber’s speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announced she was stepping down from their party’s leadership role.

Jeffries, 52, would be the first Black House Democratic leader, representing both the party’s diverse voter base and a new generation of leadership.

Jeffries announced his bid in a letter released by his office, saying: “I write to humbly ask for your support for the position of House Democratic Leader as we once again prepare to meet the moment.”

No challengers to Jeffries have yet to emerge.

Jeffries satisfies the demand of many House Democrats that younger blood replace the 82-year-old Pelosi, who has had a grip on leadership for the past two decades.

Pelosi promptly issued a statement in support of Jeffries and two other Democrats seeking leadership positions.

Representative Katherine Clark, a progressive, is running for the No. 2 position of Democratic whip and moderate Representative Pete Aguilar was expected to seek the job heading the Democratic caucus, which Jeffries now holds.

“A new day is dawning — and I am confident that these new leaders will capably lead our caucus,” Pelosi said.

As minority leader, Jeffries’ main task will be deciding when to cooperate with Republicans to pass bills such as funding the government and when to defend the agenda of President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat.

Jeffries has worked for months, if not years, to position himself for Pelosi’s job.

He was first elected to Congress in 2012, having previously served in the New York state legislature, where he worked on affordable housing issues and fought against some policing practices, such as “stop and frisk.”

Jeffries helped lead the fight in the U.S. House for legislation criminalizing police “choke holds” and other controversial tactics following George Floyd’s murder in 2020 by Minneapolis police.

Jeffries also led a bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform, which led to the 2018 passage of legislation restructuring sentencing procedures for certain drug offenses and increasing educational and vocational funding for prisoners to help reduce repeat-offender rates.

If as expected Jeffries wins the Nov. 30 leadership election, Democrats will be placing party power squarely with New Yorkers. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer represents the state of New York and Jeffries is based in New York City, representing parts of Brooklyn, including the historically Black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In 2020, Jeffries broadened his profile, becoming one of seven House managers of then-President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.

While he is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Jeffries at times has had strained relations with some progressives, who have questioned his ties to corporate America.

In a previous congressional election, there were rumblings of a possible challenge to Jeffries from the party’s left wing. But he has consistently won re-election easily, including this month with 72% of the vote in the midterm elections.

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