Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-N.Y.) late entrance into the race for House Democratic Caucus chair pits him against Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a former CBC chairwoman who announced her candidacy in June.
The competition is a sign of the CBC’s growing power and the challenges it faces as it expands. But it’s also a symptom of the leadership bottleneck threatening to shake up the entire Democratic Caucus in January.
While relatively obscure, especially compared to the high-profile speaker role, the caucus chair is an important position. In addition to being a launchpad for the future, the job puts the chairperson in the room where decisions are made, giving that member a say in the strategy the Democrats will use as they figure out how to take on President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans in 2019.
Lee and Jeffries represent opposite sides of the country and different generations of the party. Lee, 72, has paid her dues, playing the waiting game before seeking a jump into leadership. But Jeffries, 48, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is already ready to soar. A number of Democrats point to him as a potential future speaker.
That two African-American colleagues are going head to head may be unusual, members say, but it shouldn’t be unexpected within an increasingly diverse Democratic Caucus.
“There’s never a problem when two whites run against each other or two Hispanics run against each other or two Asians run against each other,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said. “So don’t ask me about that.”