How diverse is the Democratic leadership team compared to the caucus?

Minority women, Latinos and moderate Democrats still underrepresented in leadership

Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., left, and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., are part of the House Democrats' 16-member team heading into the 117th Congress.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., left, and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., are part of the House Democrats' 16-member team heading into the 117th Congress. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 3, 2020 at 11:44am

Three-quarters of the 16-member House Democratic leadership team for the 117th Congress have served four or fewer terms and nearly half are racial minorities. But only five are women and only one is a woman of color.

Democrats value diversity in their caucus, and in recent years, the makeup of their leadership team has started to more closely represent the larger membership. But on some benchmarks, they still fall short.

Ideologically, the 117th Congress will be nearly equally split between progressive and moderate Democrats, but progressives outnumber moderates in leadership 2-to-1.

Black women account for roughly 12 percent of the incoming Democratic Caucus, but none were elected to leadership posts, although two were running in contested races. The only Black woman on the team, California Rep. Barbara Lee, serves as an appointed co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Overall, Black members account for roughly a quarter of the caucus, and they are represented with six Black leaders — but five are men.

Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York were reelected to their positions, and freshman leadership representative Joe Neguse of Colorado won a promotion to Democratic Policy and Communications Committee co-chair. Texas Rep. Colin Allred, elected caucus leadership representative for members who’ve been in Congress five terms or less, and New York Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones, elected as the freshman representative, are new to leadership.

Fewer women and Latinos

The 117th Congress will have at least 91 women in the Democratic Caucus, including two nonvoting delegates. They make up roughly 41 percent of the caucus, but only five will be in leadership, accounting for 31 percent of the team. That’s two fewer than are on the outgoing 17-member leadership team (freshmen had two leadership representatives this Congress and one was a woman).

Still, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark shattered some of the remaining glass ceiling with her election as assistant speaker, making her the second-highest-ranking woman ever in Democratic leadership behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The other two women on the incoming leadership team besides Pelosi, Clark and Lee are Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, who was reelected as a DPCC co-chair, and Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who was appointed as a Steering and Policy co-chair after she decided not to run for a second term chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

California Rep. Pete Aguilar, who won a contested race for vice chair, will be the only Latino in leadership next Congress, even though 15 percent of the incoming Democratic Caucus is Hispanic.

There are two Latinos on the outgoing team: New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who served as assistant speaker but is moving to the Senate, and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, who served as freshman leadership representative with Neguse after California’s Katie Hill resigned. Escobar is seeking to lead the Congressional Hispanic Caucus instead of moving up in party leadership.

The only other Latino who sought a leadership post was California Rep. Tony Cárdenas, who was running for assistant speaker before switching to the DCCC chair race when Bustos announced she wouldn’t run.

The other racial minority in leadership is Rep. Ted Lieu, who was reelected as one of the DPCC co-chairs. The California Democrat being the only Asian in leadership is proportional to the overall number of Asian Democrats, who account for less than one-tenth of the caucus.

Of the seven racial minorities on the incoming team, all but Lee are men.

Democratic leaders, like their caucus, are still much more diverse than Republicans. The GOP leadership team is six men and one woman, all of whom are white.

Other notables

New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who defeated Cárdenas for the DCCC chairmanship Thursday, will be the highest-ranking gay member of leadership since Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, the outgoing DPCC chair, lost his bid for assistant speaker to Clark.

But there will be two gay members of leadership next Congress instead of one, with Jones serving as freshman representative. Jones and fellow New Yorker Ritchie Torres made history this cycle as the first openly gay Black men elected to Congress.

The 33-year-old Jones will be the youngest member of leadership. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, at 81, is the oldest, followed by Pelosi and Clyburn, who are 80. The average age of the Democratic leadership team is 56, similar to GOP leaders’ average age of 55.

The bigger difference between the party leaders is in how long they’ve been in Congress, with Democratic leaders having served an average of six terms and Republican leaders having served an average of four terms.

The much-talked-about generational change Democrats have called for in their party leadership is occurring if you look beyond the top three. Everyone else on the team except for Lee was first elected to Congress within the past eight years.

However, that means three-quarters of the leadership team will have four or fewer terms of experience under their belts — only one term of which they’ve spent in the majority.

Geographically, Democratic leaders still hail mostly from coastal states. Half of the incoming team is composed of California and New York representatives.

Going by U.S. Census Bureau regions, the geographical breakdown of the incoming Democratic leadership team is nearly identical to the outgoing team: six from the West, five from the Northeast, three from the South and two from the Midwest.

Republicans still do not have any leaders from the Northeast but have four from the South, two from the West and one from the Midwest. 

Here is the full slate of the Democratic leadership team: