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Hakeem Jeffries elected to lead House Dems' next generation

Hakeem Jeffries elected to lead House Democrats' next generation
Hakeem Jeffries elected to lead House Democrats' next generation 02:40

WASHINGTON -- A generational shift in leadership in our nation's capital has made history. House Democrats elected Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as their leader, making him the first African-American to lead a congressional party.

Jeffries and his leadership team replace three octogenarians.

As CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday, the Crown Heights native took a page from Mayor Eric Adams and vowed to "get stuff done."

Jeffries walked into the House press room and into history, assuming the mantle of power as the first Black person to head a party in Congress.

"House Democrats fight for the people. That's our story. That's our legacy. That's our values. That's our commitment, as we move forward. Get stuff done. Make life better for everyday Americans," Jeffries said.

READ MOREHakeem Jeffries launches bid to replace Pelosi as top House Democrat

Jeffries was elected by acclimation on a day that, coincidently, was the birthday of the late Brooklyn Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.

"I stand on the shoulders of people like Shirley Chisholm and so many others as we work to advance the ball for everyday Americans and get stuff done," Jeffries said.

A product of New York City public schools and the State University of New York at Binghamton, Jeffries marks a major generational shift. He is 52, 30 years younger than outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"This is a remarkable moment in history because of the fact that you have this young African American leading the Democrats nationally in the House. It's an extraordinary amount of power," said Basil Smikle, director of the public policy program for the Roosevelt House Institute at  Hunter College.

Standing with him Tuesday was his leadership team, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, 59, the new House whip, and California Rep. Pete Aguilar, 43, the chairman of the Party Caucus.

All three talked about trying to work across the aisle with the Republicans who, after a hard-fought election, will have a narrow majority. The Dems vowed they will not be pushovers.

"We look forward to finding opportunities to partner with the other side of the aisle and work with them whenever possible. But we will also push back against extremism whenever necessary," Jeffries said.

The Democrats took pains to point out that their unified election was a sign of strength, comparing it to the battle California Rep. Kevin McCarthy is facing to win the support he needs to become the House speaker.

"While Kevin McCarthy is auctioning off real estate and square footage for every vote he can, we're united together," Aguilar said.

Watch Marcia Kramer's report

Hakeem Jeffries elected to lead House Democrats, making history 03:00

A longtime staffer says Jeffries will pose a formidable opponent for Republicans.

"He has a mind like a computer. He's absolutely brilliant. And so he remembers every single detail of everything," former communications director Michael Hardaway said.

Jeffries will have to manage a sometimes fractured Democratic Caucus.

"He is going to have to walk a very thin line and have a balancing act that weighs a lot of different interests, but you know what, that's the job of the leader," Smikle told CBS2's Dick Brennan.

He's a leader with a style all his own and a penchant for weaving in the legacy of hip-hop.

In 2019, Jeffries said, "One of my constituents said, 'Aren't you the Congressman that shouted out Biggie Smalls on the House floor two years ago?' I said, 'Yeah, that was me' ... 'You're the number five Democrat in the House of Representatives. How did that happen?'  The only way that I could respond, by quoting the Biggie Smalls lyric, which is, 'You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.'"

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made much of the fact that two Brooklyn boys will be the top Democratic dogs in Washington.

"Growing up in Brooklyn, that crucible of Brooklyn that strengthens your tests, strengthens your mettle and tests your mettle, is a great thing," Schumer said.

"I was born. At Brooklyn Hospital, raised in Crown Heights by my two parents who were public employees, a case worker and a social worker in a middle class, working class neighborhood in the midst of the crack cocaine epidemic," Jeffries said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Adams are also hoping that the Schumer/Jeffries partnership will help deliver for New York.

Here's more on Rep. Jeffries:

He has a master's degree in public policy from Georgetown University, and got his law degree from New York University. He has advocated for social and economic justice.

Jeffries was a House impeachment manager during President Donald Trump's first Senate impeachment trial, and helped sponsor a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill.

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