On Wednesday, Nov. 30, House Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as minority speaker—he becomes the first Black leader of a party in Congress.
Jeffries might be precisely what Democrats need in America’s increasingly contentious political civil war, where most Republicans behave as if it’s a North vs. South redux.
For starters, Jeffries is unapologetically Black. During his campaign, he often wore tracksuits. When he presented arguments for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment, Jefferies punctuated his remarks by quoting none other than the late hip-hop icon the Notorious B.I.G. “And if you don’t know, now you know,” Jeffries said in the quintessential mic drop moment.
But most importantly, Jeffries’s ascension into a leadership role as vets like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip James Clyburn step aside signals a much-needed changing of the guard.
More pointedly, Washington insiders—and many outsiders—have argued that it’s time for the younger generation of leaders to take the helm. Both Pelosi and Clyburn are 82.
Along with Jeffries, 52, taking over for Pelosi, Rep. Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts, was elected to replace Clyburn as whip. At the same time, Rep. Pete Aguilar, 43, of California, ascended to the role of Democratic conference chair.
As one journalist pointed out, the “oldest member of the incoming Democratic leadership team is nearly a quarter-century younger than the youngest member of the current Democratic leadership team.”
“The thing about us is that while we can have some noisy conversations at times about how we can make progress for the American people, what we’ve seen is that under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, we’ve constantly been able to come together,” Jeffries said during a nationally televised interview this week.
Maxwell Frost, the 25-year-old from Florida, perhaps best punctuates the changing of the guard in the Democratic party. Frost won the election this month as the first member of Generation Z to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he’ll serve under Jeffries’ leadership.
“I think it’s important that we have a government that looks like the people,” Frost stated.
The change in Democratic leadership comes at a time when their Republican counterparts have seized control of the House, weaponized the U.S. Supreme Court, gerrymandered congressional maps throughout the country, and have used their pulpits to spark and spread messages of hate and division.
And with the G.O.P.’s unchecked and unquestioned leader, Donald Trump, announcing his 2024 White House bid, Democrats have finally read the room and recognized the need to get younger.
“Americans have tended to see younger candidates as less qualified to serve in office relative to a middle-aged or older candidate,” Damon Roberts, a political scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, told CBS News.
That view partly comes from age requirements. To serve in the U.S. House, a candidate must be at least 25. A U.S. Senator must be at least 30, while a presidential hopeful can’t be younger than 35.
“People do seem to be pretty positive toward having a younger representative,” Roberts asserted.
Stressed and sickened by thoughts of their rights and democracy slipping away, young Americans across gender, racial, geographic and education lines banded together last week to help save the Democrats from what many foresaw as a sizable midterm defeat, John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, wrote in an editorial.
“In the eyes of many young voters, this is how America meets its destiny: when the passion of the grassroots melds with the power of institutions to forge progress,” Della Volpe asserted. “As political analysts methodically review the numbers after an election for the ages, anyone interested in the winning formula for 2024 should closely examine those between the ages of 18 and 39.”
Gerald Warburg, a professor of practice of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, noted that turnover in the youth-challenged leadership of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses had frozen for decades.
Until now, all Democratic legislative leaders were over 70 years of age. Warburg contended that both parties might now welcome the opportunity to pass the torch to a new, post-baby boomer generation with fresh ideas.
Pelosi and Democrats, Warburg said, “had the courage to step back, making way for new leaders and new ideas.”
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA News Wire national senior correspondent.