Who is Hakeem Jeffries, the next likely Democratic leader in the US House?

“[He’s] always prepared and cares about our future as a country more than his future as a public servant,” former Congressman Cedric Richmond tells theGrio.

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The Democratic Party is witnessing a generational passing of the torch after the history-making speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced on Thursday that she will step down from leadership after shepherding the party for two decades.

U.S. Speaker of the Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) talks to House Democratic Conference Chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) after Pelosi delivered remarks from the House Chambers of the U.S. Capitol Building on November 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Pelosi’s decision to not to seek reelection as party leader has opened a new pathway for U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who formally announced on Friday his bid to lead the party in the lower chamber. If elected by his Democratic peers, Jeffries would become the first Black person to ever lead a major political party in Congress.

Jeffries, 52, is the current chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and is expected to run unopposed for House minority leader later this month. The Brooklyn native has represented New York’s 8th Congressional District for five terms. 

Jeffries, who before Congress served in the New York State Assembly, completed his undergraduate studies at Binghamton University and received advanced degrees from Georgetown University and New York University School of Law. He is also a married father of two and a member of the historically Black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. Jeffries entered Congress in 2013, filling the vacant seat left by retired Congressman Edolphus Towns.

Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) talks to reporters following a caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on August 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jeffries’ candidacy for Democratic leadership has received key support from veteran Democratic leaders in the House, including Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who currently serves as House majority leader, and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House majority whip.

Clyburn is currently the highest-ranking Black person on Capitol Hill and is expected to shift assignments with an expected appointment by Jeffries as the assistant minority leader in January. This is a similar position Clyburn held when Democrats were in the minority during the presidency of Barack Obama. 

Clyburn told theGrio over this past weekend, before Republicans won back the majority in the House, that if Democrats were to lose the majority, he would support a younger person to serve as minority leader. However, Clyburn emphasized that he would like to remain a part of the House Democratic leadership. As assistant minority leader, Clyburn would keep in place institutional and historical knowledge within party leadership with a younger leader at the helm. 

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) leaves after his address to a joint session of Congress as House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) looks on in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol February 24, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)

Former Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond, who worked alongside Jeffries in Congress and served with him as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, tells theGrio that Jeffries has demonstrated that he is ready to lead.

“[He’s] always prepared and cares about our future as a country more than his future as a public servant,” said Richmond, who left his post as a senior advisor to President Joe Biden earlier this year and now works as a Democratic consultant. Richmond believes the future is bright for the Brooklyn congressman. 

“I look forward to helping him win the majority and making him Speaker Jeffries,” he said. 

From left, Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., Cedric Richmond, D-La., Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., are seen in the Capitol’s House chamber before members were sworn in on the first day of the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As Republicans take control of the House in January 2023, there are concerns about whether  Congress will be able to pass any legislation in a divided Congress. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently told theGrio that Republicans in the House had demonstrated a history of following the ideology of former President Donald Trump, particularly the expected incoming speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. 

“[He] often follows Trump, and they are just right-wing and extreme, and they don’t help people who need help,” said Schumer. 

The New York senator said he is “hopeful” that even with a Republican majority in the House, he believes Democrats will be able to “find 30 or 40 of them who are willing to work with us because they know following Trump is a path to disaster.”

House Democrats will hold their leadership elections on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, where Jeffries will likely assume the top job in the Democratic Party. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts is expected to become the House minority whip, and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California will likely assume Jeffries’ current position as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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