In the wake of the “blue wave” that has rushed over the House of Representatives, another less conspicuous wave has also come over the Democratic caucus. With the elections for a new speaker nearly upon Congress, and despite some calling for immediate new leadership, it has become clear that Nancy Pelosi will most likely regain her position as the House Speaker, along with Rep. Steny Hoyer (Maryland) and Rep. James Clyburn (South Carolina), who will return to the number two and three leadership positions, respectively.
All three of these leaders are in their late seventies. Pelosi, who became the first female speaker in 2007, appears to be aware that the sun is setting on her leadership, and has referred to this time as “transitional.” In such a drastically fluctuating political climate, it is time for new faces and new ideas to come to the forefront of the legislative branch.
Midterm voters didn’t just vote for a party, they voted for a diverse group of individuals who happened to align with ideals of the Democratic party, with widely varying origins and political philosophies. There are more than 60 incoming elected officials to Congress, and 27 of them are under the age of 50. Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became a midterms superstar as the youngest member of Congress ever at 29 years old, as well as a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. Along with this milestone, two representatives will serve as the first female Muslims in the house and another two will be the first Native-American women elected to Congress. Sharice Davids is the member-elect from Kansas’s 3rd district; she is a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, an openly gay woman and a professional mixed martial artist turned attorney before running for office. It is evident that the American people want to see not only younger faces but also faces from parts of society that have never been a part of the legislative process until now.
It isn’t just the American people that are showing a desire for new ideas and leadership, but also the incumbent representatives in Congress as well. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York beat out Rep. Barbara Lee of California for the number five leadership spot in the Democratic Party, positioning him as the speaker-to-be when Pelosi and her contemporaries decide to make their exit. With Jeffries at age 48 and Lee at 72, Democratic House members made it clear that fresh, ambitious and charismatic party leadership is what they are trying to create as they prepare for their reintroduction as the majority in Congress. Jeffries is nothing if not the perfect representation of the new Democratic Party. He is popular within the party for his gift for rousing off-the-cuff speeches, and Rep. Juan C. Vargas has even compared him to former President Barack Obama.
The ambition of the newly elected representatives is now on display, as they arrive just in time for the election of a new speaker. Elections create a unique opportunity for new members of the house to gain leverage for their desired committees and personal initiatives with Pelosi. Ocasio-Cortez has made it clear that she is vying for a highly coveted position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and will likely take advantage of Pelosi’s ever-so-slight moment of vulnerability to move for it. Meanwhile, another young midterm star, congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts, made a deal to support Pelosi so long as she promises to bring a gun background check bill to the House floor.
The “blue-wave” is certainly an exciting buzzword, and it’s encouraging to see what seems to be a reaction to the current administration’s transgressions and shortcomings, but the truly compelling story lies in the changes occurring within the Democratic Party itself. There are numerous new faces, with backgrounds, beliefs and stories that have yet to be encountered within the lawmaking process at the federal level. The young talent in the Democratic Party presents positive aspects of past lawmakers while also bringing a fresh ambition and charisma that will hopefully reinvigorate an aging party. Right now it seems we will have to just wait and see, but my real hope is that Congress will do anything but.