House Democrats are already thinking about a post-Pelosi caucus and eyeing a fresh group of younger leaders.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 81, is serving in the chamber’s highest role for the second time in her long political career, and there’s chatter in the halls of Congress about who will emerge as her successor.
“I’ve heard that Pelosi may not run again, or might not be speaker again. I think it’s probably pretty speculative right now, but [there’s] excitement about a lot of different members,” a House Democratic aide privately told The Washington Times.
Mrs. Pelosi, who made history as the first female speaker of the House, has yet to announce whether she will run again to represent her San Francisco district.
She refused to talk about her future when asked by The Times at a celebratory press conference after the House passed President Biden’s roughly $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate bill, known as the Build Back Better plan.
“I’m not here to talk about me, I’m here to talk about Building Back Better,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Interest in a potential change in command comes as younger, more liberal members clash with the aging, establishment Democrats who have long led the caucus.
The names of younger lawmakers such as New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 51, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, 56, and California Reps. Peter Aguilar, 42, and Adam B. Schiff, 61, have all been floated in lawmakers’ conversations about the next generation of Democratic leadership.
Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, 58, the assistant speaker of the House, also has been name-dropped by fellow Democrats as a potential candidate for leadership.
It’s not just Mrs. Pelosi who has spent decades in Democratic leadership. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland is 82. Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina is 81.
Mr. Clyburn has said he intends to run for reelection next year. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer have been tight-lipped about their plans.
A Hoyer spokeswoman said the majority leader currently is sharply focused on passing the Democrats’ agenda.
“Mr. Hoyer appreciates the strong support of his colleagues and looks forward to continuing his service to our caucus and the American people,” the spokeswoman said.
Still, leadership replacements are waiting in the wings.
Mr. Jeffries, who serves as the caucus chairman, is the clear favorite among Capitol Hill insiders to be the next House speaker.
If elected to the post, Mr. Jeffries would be the first Black speaker of the House, a feat that would align with the party’s vision of diversity for the caucus.
“I think that he’s demonstrated great leadership ability to hold the caucus together and bring us together,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat. “Even though we sometimes have strong views on different topics as received between the progressives and the moderates, it’s a testament to his ability to read and continue to move the party forward by passing things.”
A senior House Democratic staffer said Mr. Jeffries is considered a “unicorn” because he’s able to navigate ideological and generational divides.
“What I hear is people really like Hakeem,” the aide said, not wanting to be identified talking about a replacement for Mrs. Pelosi. “He sort of bridges a divide. The younger members feel like he’s one of them. The older ones think they sort of raised him. Moderates don’t think he’s too progressive and progressives don’t think he’s too moderate.”
Ms. Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also has risen swiftly in the party, through her efforts to push a far-left agenda in closely watched sparring over Mr. Biden’s massive infrastructure and social spending bills.
“Jayapal has shown that she can keep progressives together as a voting bloc,” the aide said. “I think progressives are going to want someone at the table. I don’t know if it’s Pramila. I don’t know if it’s Mark Pocan or someone else in that caucus, but I do think they’re going to want someone who’s not currently in the leadership mix at the table out there fighting for their cause.”
Mr. Pocan, a 57-year-old Wisconsin Democrat, is a co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and a former chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Whoever emerges as the successor to Mrs. Pelosi, the next decade of Democratic leadership is expected to reflect the younger and increasingly diverse caucus.
“I think that means more persons of color in a more central role,” said Jacob Neiheisel, a political science professor at the University of Buffalo.
Democrats also are laboring to hold on to their narrow majority in the 2022 midterm elections. The competition to replace Mrs. Pelosi could very well be a race for minority leader.
Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to retake the majority, and the GOP’s campaign arm is targeting more than 60 vulnerable Democrats.
Mr. Neiheisel said Democratic losses would hinder the current leadership bloc but also could place blame on progressives who voters say are too far left.
“If it’s Pelosi, you know, you had your shots, your way of doing things, you didn’t sufficiently mobilize progressives or sufficiently excite people, then maybe you see a different culture come in,” Mr. Neiheisel said. “If the blame gets entirely placed, rightly or wrongly, more on the progressive caucus, then maybe you see the party double down on what they’ve done before.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who is a vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she doesn’t expect any changes in the current leadership. If there are changes, she wants the door to be open for any member, despite seniority or recognition, to try for a spot.
“When we talk about the future, I want to keep the door open to everyone,” she said. “It should be intergenerational. It should be members who’ve been here, members we’ve gotten here the last couple of years, and members who’ve just got here. So, let’s just look to the talent of the caucus, and I’m just going to assess everyone.”
• Kerry Picket contributed to this report.