On Wednesday, shortly after Democrats in the House of Representatives handed control again to leaders whose average age is 76, the Congressional Black Caucus chose one of its youngest chairpersons in history.
The CBC selected Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), 43, over Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), 52, as its 25th chairman by a vote of 28-11. Richmond will be the youngest CBC chair in 31 years, the late Mickey Leland being the only other chair who was younger (41) when he was sworn in, in 1985.
Richmond, who has represented New Orleans since arriving in Congress in 2011, shared his thoughts with The Root about the CBC's likely role as the political resistance in Congress to Donald Trump's administration.
"We owe it to the communities we serve that have many needs to give lots of deliberation to every move that we make, and we have to be very careful in how we go forward," Richmond said between votes on the House floor. "We are very concerned about the start of the administration and who he's picked and what they have symbolized, but this is the administration we will have to deal with. You can expect the loyal opposition regarding who we are and the people we represent."
While the CBC went with youth, House Democrats chose to stick with familiar leadership: Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 76, of California, was re-elected House minority leader; Maryland's Rep. Steny Hoyer, 77, was re-elected as Democratic whip; and Rep. James Clyburn, 76, of South Carolina, remains assistant leader.
The new CBC chair will lead during the first two years of the Trump administration and will have a powerful opportunity to be the tip of the sword against repealing health care and privatizing Social Security.
By the time Trump arrives in the White House on Jan. 20, the largest group of African Americans in Congress in history will have already been sworn in. Fifty-two African Americans will be sworn in to the 115th Congress on Jan. 3 and 50 of them are expected to be members of the CBC, making Richmond the leader of the largest Black Caucus in history.
Problem is, 49 of the 50 members of the CBC will be Democrats, and 48 of them will be serving in the minority in the House with no power to control the legislative agenda. Though Richmond will be the leader of the largest caucus in Congress, the CBC’s power is blunted by the minority status of a Democratic Party that continues to underperform and lose to Republicans at the state and federal levels.
The CBC is also getting older. Though one of its oldest members, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), 86, is retiring this year, 20 of the 50 members of the CBC will be 70 or older by the end of next year.
Because a large older group of members are now peaking in seniority, black members are first and second in seniority on several top House committees that control billions of dollars and major federal policy decisions. But the Democratic Party’s worst position in seven decades is killing black federal power.
Whether being the largest Congressional Black Caucus in history means more power within the Democratic Party is yet to be seen. At a marathon meeting in the Capitol the night of Nov. 29, more than 25 members of the caucus went round and round on strategy regarding how they should confront House leadership about their concerns. Not much was resolved.
"Sometimes I think it may have been easier to get consensus back in the 1970s, when there were 13 members," remarked Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) the morning after the meeting. "They were a small group united."
The CBC and the Democratic Party have an uphill climb over the next few years. But the new CBC chair has led before; Richmond was chair of the Louisiana Black Caucus during his time as a state legislator.
At least there is one thing Richmond's CBC won't have to worry about: juggling issues around having to agree with every policy the first black president proposes and dealing with constituent backlash if they don't. With the Trump administration, opposition is likely to come very easily.