House Democrats on Thursday elected California Rep. Pete Aguilar to serve as vice chairman of their caucus for the 117th Congress, making him the highest-ranking Latino on the emerging leadership team.
Aguilar beat Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly for the No. 6 slot in leadership by a vote of 148-82.
In the other contested race Thursday, Texas Rep. Colin Allred narrowly won a three-way race for caucus leadership representative, a position reserved for members who have served five terms or less.
Aguilar was making his second bid for the vice chair position, after losing to Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark two years ago. Clark decided against a second term for the next Congress and ran instead for assistant speaker, a race she won Wednesday.
Outgoing Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, currently the highest-ranking Latino in House Democratic leadership, is headed to the Senate.
Kelly had been angling to bring more diversity to the leadership team as well. Had she won, she would have been the first Black woman in a top leadership post since Shirley Chisholm served as caucus secretary (the precursor to the vice chair position) from 1977 to 1981.
Kelly congratulated Aguilar after the vote, saying in a statement, “He offered a vision that will unite our caucus to do the hard work that’s needed to build after the four failed years of the Trump Administration.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorsed Aguilar on Monday, along with California Rep. Tony Cárdenas, who is running for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman against New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. The DCCC election will be held the week after Thanksgiving.
Democrats saw a drop in support from Hispanic voters this cycle in key parts of the country, such as South Florida and Texas. Aguilar told CQ Roll Call last week that it would take more than a seat at the leadership table to address the party’s problems with Latinos.
“We really have to understand — and what the Hispanic Caucus has been saying for years — is the Latino community does not vote as a monolith,” he said, noting that Democrats need to do a deep dive to understand those diverse communities.
Aguilar was also endorsed by the moderate New Democrat Coalition, in which he serves as whip. The endorsement was the group’s first in a leadership race.
“Our support for Pete is grounded in having seen him up close and personal. He understands the diversity and backgrounds of districts our members come from,” coalition Chairman Derek Kilmer of Washington told CQ Roll Call last week.
Aguilar said he was thankful to have the support of the New Democrats, whom he called “key to maintaining and expanding the House majority.” But he also touted support from progressives such as Reps. Katie Porter of California and Peter Welch of Vermont, who served on his whip team.
One of Aguilar’s goals as vice chairman is to improve communication across the caucus through both small- and large-group meetings, which for the time being will be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he wants to “give each member the space to share what they’re hearing from their districts.”
Only members in their first five terms can vote for and serve in this position. The contest required two ballots to resolve since no one secured an outright majority in the close first round, which Allred led with 46 votes to Crow’s 43 and Lawrence’s 42.
Lawrence was dropped from the second-round ballot, which saw Allred prevail over Crow, 69-58.
With Kelly and Lawrence both losing their races, the caucus yet again opted not to elect a Black woman to leadership. There will still be one Black woman in the room, however, as California Rep. Barbara Lee will continue serving as one of three Democratic Steering and Policy Committee co-chairs, which are leadership roles the speaker appoints.
California’s Eric Swalwell will also continue as a steering panel co-chair, and Pelosi appointed Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, the outgoing head of the DCCC, to the third co-chair spot. Bustos replaces Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro, who is running to lead the House Appropriations Committee.
The caucus also voted by acclamation to elect four co-chairs to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, as that’s how many candidates were running.
Joining them is Colorado’s Joe Neguse, who was elected to fill a fourth co-chair seat that the caucus installed this fall to replace the so-called chair of chairs position created two years ago for Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island. Cicilline lost a bid for assistant speaker Wednesday to Clark.
Neguse, the outgoing freshman leadership co-representative, made history with his 2018 election as Colorado’s first Black member of Congress. He is also the first Eritrean American to serve in Congress.
Separately, New York’s Mondaire Jones was unanimously elected Thursday by fellow members of the incoming Democratic freshman class as their leadership representative, succeeding Neguse and Veronica Escobar of Texas. He succeeds Neguse and Veronica Escobar of Texas, who served as co-representatives because of the large size of the 116th Congress’ freshman class.
Neguse, 36, has been the youngest member of leadership in the current Congress, a distinction Jones, 33, will hold in the next.
“I’m proud to be part of a class of history-makers,” Jones said on Twitter. “I look forward to joining the House leadership team and working to build our nation back better than ever. Let’s get to work.”
On Wednesday, in addition to electing Clark as assistant speaker, House Democrats nominated Nancy Pelosi to return as speaker and reelected Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries to their posts.