Room at the top? Not for new Dems

A younger generation of Democrats is chafing at being asked to stand aside and let a triumvirate of elders keep their leadership positions in the wake of a catastrophic midterm election result.

Barring an unexpected shake-up, House Democrats next year will be led by a combination of Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) — lawmakers who are 70 or older and have served in Congress for decades. 

Most rank-and-file Democrats would have been happy with these leaders had their party retained its majority in the 112th Congress, but the loss of the House and at least 60 seats led many to anticipate a changing of the guard.

“It is inescapable that the message that was sent by the American people is they want a change in direction. And a change in direction means a change in leadership,” Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said on Fox News last week.

Democratic Reps. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraClinton makes new push to win the House Dems bullish on Hispanic support, turnout The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.), among others, were all seen as top contenders to move up but have found themselves in limbo as Pelosi locks down the minority-leader post and Hoyer and Clyburn vie for whip. Becerra is trying to hold on to the vice chairmanship of the caucus, while Van Hollen, the campaign chief appointed by Pelosi as assistant to the Speaker, is for now on the outside looking in. He is now seeking the top Democratic position on the House Budget Committee.

None of those lawmakers has complained publicly about being shut out, but other Democrats have warned that the party risks ignoring a message from voters if they keep the same leaders in place.

 “We can’t let them sit on the bench for too much longer,” one Democratic aide said, referring to the party’s younger lawmakers. “There’s a push to add in some new ideas and new faces and new energy.”

Another aide said the old guard’s stranglehold on the Democratic upper ranks has caused grumbling among younger members.

“The results of the election definitely indicated a need for fresh faces in the party leadership, and that’s what members are frustrated about,” the aide said.

The House Republican leadership, while lacking the racial and gender diversity of the Democrats, has paired the 60-year-old Speaker-in-waiting John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court Vote House Republicans out MORE (Ohio) with the younger Rep. Eric CantorEric CantorVA Dems jockey for Kaine's seat High anxiety for GOP Webb: Broken trust, broken party MORE (Va.), who is poised to become majority leader and is one of several up-and-coming GOP leaders known as the “young guns.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), another of the young guns, is a rising GOP star who seems set to become the majority whip. He’s about to enter his third term and is a relatively youthful 45 years old.

On the Democratic side, there are no apparent plans for a transition. Many members want both Hoyer and Clyburn to stay in the leadership, a scenario that could leave just one open spot for vice chairman, the lowest-ranking leadership post. The current caucus chairman, Rep. John Larson (Conn.), 62, also wants to keep his job.

That offers little opportunity for the under-50 set of Becerra, Van Hollen, Crowley, DeGette and others.

Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn have all touted their experience in their pitches to colleagues, arguing the caucus needs “tested” leadership to fight Republican attempts to roll back Democratic accomplishments of the last two years. And supporters of the current leadership team say that proven experience is more important than bringing in new blood.

“We need the best leadership team we can get,” Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill.

Others said Pelosi had won the right to lead the caucus next year through her performance as Speaker. “She’s taken us this far,” Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said.

This story was updated at 9:25 a.m. with additional information.