This is an opinion column.
She had walked into the chamber two years before the man now stood on the precipice of history.
In 2013, a freshman US Congresswoman representing Alabama’s 7th District—an Ivy-educated young woman from Selma, the heart of the Black Belt—welcomed a newcomer to the House representing New York’s 8th District, the heart of Brooklyn and a new seat. of black political power in the state, replacing Harlem.
Today, Rep. Terri Sewell considers Rep. Hakeem Jeffries a “very close confidant and friend,” she shared with me recently, days after Jeffries announced she was seeking to succeed stalwart House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as House leader. Democratic Club. Jeffries is the face of the party’s seismic, damn long generational change. A shift from the first — and only — woman to lead House Democrats to potentially the first black man to lead both parties on Capitol Hill.
A shift that is a rare handover in a realm where power is usually held until the fingers are cold, wrinkled and numb.
Pelosi, 82, relinquished the gavel after wielding it for nearly two decades, through four presidents. In perhaps the best shade ever thrown from a House podium, Pelosi said in announcing her decision to step down as party leader, “I’ve enjoyed working with three presidents and achieving historic clean energy investments with President George W. Bush. Transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama. And create a future from infrastructure to health care to climate action with President Joe Biden.”
Pause for full shade effect.
Soon after Pelosi’s speech, Majority Whip James Clyburn, 82, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83 — her two key leaders in the Dem caucus — said they would also step aside to make way for new, young blood. Or at least young.
Jefferies is 52. While other Dems can certainly throw their names into contention for the top spot before House members vote — expected on Nov. 30 — Jeffries’ status as a front-runner remains unchallenged. Clyburn-Hoyer’s power vacuum was widely speculated to be filled under him by Deputy Speaker Katherine Clark, 59, who represents the 5th District outside Boston; and the current vice-chairman of the committee Rep. Pete Aguilar, 43, who is standing in the nation’s capital representing California’s 31st congressional district and is the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
The average age of the outgoing trio is just a few weeks past 82; the average age of successors is just over 51 years. This 31-year gap is wider than the gaping 26.8-year gap between the average age of Alabama’s elected officials (66.6 years) and residents (39.8 years).
Seismic displacement. About damn time.
Between now and their vote, amid the Thanksgiving break and the fight to pass a budget and push another bill through Congress, House Democrats are playing chess. (Not even remotely to be confused with the Tiddlywinks played by the Alabama Democratic Party leadership.) They play a non-stop game of moves and counter moves that begins as soon as a newly elected member of the House or Senate touches the Bible and ends his oath with, “So help me God.”
Sewell’s association with Jeffries — she’s among the whips supporting him — and their longtime friendship puts her in a unique place at this unique time. In connection with the change. If he becomes committee leader, Jeffries will have influence over committee appointments (Sewell is a longtime member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee) and new leadership roles. If he were to become leader, what might that mean for Alabama’s only Democrat in the House or Senate?
Sewell wouldn’t talk specifically about the new leadership options, but shared, “[Jeffries] he came to my mother’s services at my mother’s family church in Lowndes County. I am part of his internal whip team in his hunt for a minority leader to replace Nancy Pelosi. I hope to continue to have a growing influence in the Democratic Caucus.”
New day. New moves.
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Roy S. Johnson is a 2021 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Commentary and 2021 Edward R. Murrow Award Winner for Podcasting: “Unjustifiable,” co-hosted with John Archibald. His column appears in The Birmingham News and AL.com, as well as the Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register. Contact him at [email protected]follow him on twitter.com/roysjor on Instagram @roysj.