A Guide To Who’s Who In House Leadership For The 116th Congress

January 6, 2019

The 116th Congress officially convened on Thursday with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years. And with Democrats’ newfound power and Republicans’ first time in the minority in nearly a decade, both parties saw a shuffle in their leadership teams.

The Democratic leadership is a diverse slate, representing the record number of women and minorities their new caucus brings to Capitol Hill — Nancy Pelosi is resuming her place as the first female House speaker in history, with four other top positions either being filled by a woman or person of color.

Republicans, however, have a leadership slate made up almost entirely of white males.

Here’s who you need to know in House leadership for both parties in the new Congress:

Democrats

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Pelosi made history as the first woman speaker ever when she took the gavel in 2007. Now, she retakes it again 12 years later, also making her the first speaker to reclaim the position in more than six decades.

The San Francisco lawmaker has had her detractors, and many incoming freshmen in swing district campaigned on new leadership. On Thursday, fifteen in her caucus either voted for someone else or simply voted present. Still, those defections were much fewer than the 78-year-old feared last fall, showcasing her deal-making prowess that even many Republicans privately praise her for.

She’ll have to manage a caucus with diverging opinions and a vocal progressive wing, and have to grapple with a Republican Senate — something she didn’t have to contend with during her first tenure. And, of course, plenty of clashes with President Trump also likely await. First on the agenda: trying to find an end to the partial government shutdown, with Pelosi pledging not to budge on funding for the wall on the southern border with Mexico that Trump says is a requirement before he will sign spending measures that would end the shutdown.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The 79-year-old Hoyer also resumed the same post he had during Democrats’ last turn in the majority, moving up from serving as minority whip for the past eight years.

Pelosi and Hoyer have a had a long, sometimes testy, relationship. She hails from the legendary Maryland D’Alesandro political family, but that hasn’t always endeared the two to each other, though they’ve denied any friction in recent years. Pelosi first beat Hoyer for whip in 2001 and she backed a challenger to Hoyer for majority leader when Democrats last took control in 2006.

As The New York Times, recently wrote, the “Pelosi-Hoyer frenemies dynamic, long a subject of intrigue in the Capitol, is growing ever more complex” as they’re back in power together. But Hoyer has been a political survivor. He’s the longest-serving current Democrat in the House, first elected in 1981. Hoyer is also the only white male in the top ranks of Democratic leadership.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

The 78-year-old Clyburn is the highest-ranking African-American lawmaker in Congress. He served as whip when Democrats had the majority from 2007 until 2011, and then served as assistant House Democratic leader while Democrats were in the minority — a post Pelosi created especially for him when Hoyer and Clyburn were competing against each other after the 2010 elections. When Democrats were last in the majority, Clyburn served as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

It wasn’t lost on many Democrats this year, though, that the trio at the top of the leadership ranks are all in their late seventies. And there’s a proposal Pelsoi has backed to change that, term-limiting the top three spots to bring change over the next few years.

Assistant Speaker, Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.

Lujan was awarded this No. 4 post after leading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the past two cycles, resulting in a 40-seat gain in November and Democrats flipping control of the chamber. The position makes the 46-year-old the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, and part of a new generation of potential Democratic leaders once the top three leaders eventually step aside.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Jeffries narrowly defeated California Rep. Barbara Lee in caucus elections in November to claim the No. 5 leadership post. Some of Lee’s allies claimed sexism and ageism in the vote, and criticized Jeffries as too centrist. Still, the victory set up the 48-year-old New York lawmaker, once called “Brooklyn’s Barack Obama,” as a possible speaker of the House one day, which would make him the first black Speaker in history if that happens. And his addition means there’s another African-American in Democratic leadership.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.

Bustos has the tough task of protecting Democrats’ newfound majority, but she brings credentials to the table unlike the others atop leadership — she represents a somewhat rural Illinois district that Trump narrowly carried, not unlike many of the seats Democrats will have to defend in 2020. A political protege of Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the centrist lawmaker even got four votes for speaker from incoming moderate Democratic freshmen.

Republicans

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The 53-year-old California lawmaker would have far preferred the title of “Speaker” following Paul Ryan’s retirement, but now he will have to learn how to maneuver being in the minority for the first time in eight years. McCarthy defeated House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan of Ohio to win the top GOP post, and he should still expect to try to contend with a vocal conservative minority within the caucus — issues that plagued both of his predecessors. He’s endeared himself to Trump (reportedly even keeping his favorite Starburst flavors on hand), and McCarthy’s relationship with the president will be worth watching as Trump tries to win re-election and Republicans try to win back control of the House.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

Scalise keeps the same role he’s held since 2014, albeit this time for the minority party. The 53-year-old Louisiana lawmaker survived a near-fatal shooting attempt in June 2017 after a man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice, and had continued rehabilitation. “I had miracles. I had angels,” he would later tell Politico about the assassination attempt. Scalise unanimously won the whip spot again when Republicans held leadership elections in November.

Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

The 52-year-old Wyoming lawmaker assumes the No. 3 House GOP leadership post more than three decades after it was once held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. She’s the highest-ranking woman in GOP leadership, and assumed the position after Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers decided not to seek another term in the party’s leadership ranks. The political scion was first elected in 2016 and didn’t make much noise during her first term, but now she could become one of the GOP’s most visible faces, especially as Republicans try to counter a large number of new freshmen women Democrats.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer, R-Minn.

Emmer has to try to find a way to win back the 18 seats Republicans need to regain control of the House in 2020. He takes the position after serving as a deputy NRCC chair during the 2018 cycle. There could be divergent views within the caucus on how to do that, though. He’s already gotten in a flap with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who said she’d help more GOP women win in primaries next year. After Emmer said it would be a “mistake” for Stefanik to try to intervene in primaries, she hit back, saying “I wasn’t asking for permission.”

Also on the GOP leadership team are Republican Conference Secretary Jason Smith, R-Mo., and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer, R-Ala.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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