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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Representative Hakeem Jeffries formally launched his candidacy on Friday to become the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, a day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she was stepping down.

Jeffries, 52, would be the first black lawmaker to head a party caucus in the US Congress, representing both the party’s diverse voter base and a new generation of leaders.

As a minority leader, Jeffries’s main task will be to decide when to cooperate with Republicans to pass bills like government funding and when to champion the agenda of President Joe Biden, also a Democrat.

Republicans will take control of the House in January, having emerged with a majority in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

The often reserved Jeffries, who was known by fellow fraternity students for his measured speech, put on a more aggressive display at a news conference on Tuesday.

He criticized what he called “extremist Maga Republicans” taking control of the House – a reference to the “Make America Great Again” slogan popularized by former Republican President Donald Trump.

Jeffries seeks to follow the historic accomplishments of Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House and the first woman to lead a party in either House of Congress.

If Jeffries secures the seat, as expected, it could be a stepping stone to possibly becoming the first black speaker of the House the next time Democrats control that House of Congress.

Jeffries announced his candidacy in a letter released by his office, stating: “I am writing to humbly ask for your support for the position of House Democratic Leader as we once again prepare to face the situation.”

No challengers have emerged against Jeffries to date.

Jeffries meets the demand from many House Democrats that younger blood replace Pelosi, 82, who has held the leadership for the past two decades.

Pelosi promptly issued a statement in support of Jeffries and two other Democrats seeking leadership positions.

Representative Katherine Clark, a progressive, is running to be Democratic No. 2 in the House and moderate Representative Pete Aguilar was expected to seek the Democratic caucus chair position, which Jeffries currently holds.

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