Seven rising Democratic stars
A big problem for ambitious Democrats in the House is a leadership power structure that makes it difficult to move up.
Reps. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) have occupied the top three rungs on the leadership ladder for more than a decade.
Other Democrats, from Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen (Md.) to Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), who is nominated to serve as California’s attorney general, have left the House.
Both Van Hollen and Becerra were seen by some as possible future leaders, but decided to leave for better opportunities.
The Democratic caucus is full of young, ambitious lawmakers who want to move up, and as minority leader, Pelosi has added several new positions to bring more members into the fold.
Here are seven rising stars to watch in the new Congress as Democrats jostle to represent the next generation.
Tim Ryan (Ohio)
Ryan will come into the new session with a higher profile than ever before after challenging Pelosi for Democratic leader.
He fell short in a 134-63 vote that showed the hunger within the caucus for some kind of change.
Ryan, 43, cast himself as someone who could appeal to the white working-class voters in the Rust Belt who helped seal President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.
Yet Ryan’s future might not be in the House, but rather in a gubernatorial race. He passed on running in 2014, but some think he’ll give it a shot in 2018.
Joe Crowley (N.Y.)
Crowley was already a shoo-in to become the new Democratic caucus chairman when colleagues started urging him to mount a challenge to Pelosi.
The 54-year-old Queens congressman is popular among fellow Democrats and is a prolific fundraiser. And he’s hard to miss in a crowd with his deep, booming voice and 6-foot-5-inch stature.
While Crowley passed on running for minority leader this time, serving as caucus chairman will give him a high-profile role crafting House Democrats’ strategy during the Trump administration.
If Pelosi, Hoyer or Clyburn move on in the coming years, Crowley would be well-positioned to offer himself as a next-generation leader with years of messaging experience.
Linda Sanchez (Calif.)
Sanchez will be the first woman of color to serve in House leadership.
The daughter of Mexican immigrants is set to be the Democratic caucus vice chair after a term this past Congress leading the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. With Becerra leaving, she’ll be the highest-ranking Hispanic member of Congress.
Sanchez, 47, will also be one of the youngest members in the top leadership hierarchy, as Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn are all in their late 70s.
Four years from now, Sanchez could have an opportunity to move up given that the Democratic caucus chair is limited to two terms. Both Becerra and Crowley served as vice chairmen before advancing up a slot.
Cheri Bustos (Ill.)
The new leadership posts Pelosi agreed to create are nearly all filled with lawmakers from coastal states despite calls to embrace regional diversity.
Bustos holds the distinction of being the only one to hail from the Midwest. She will serve as co-chair of the caucus’s messaging arm, known as the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Her first leadership stint will come after serving as vice chair of the House Democratic campaign arm’s recruitment committee.
Bustos, 55, won reelection for a third term in a largely rural swing district carried by Trump this year. She could offer fellow Democrats a model for reaching out to voters who were drawn to Trump.
“We have been the party of working-class men and women for the entire history of our party,” Bustos told NPR’s Steve Inskeep in a recent interview. “But we've got to go where people are. And we've got to listen.”
Eric Swalwell (Calif.)
Swalwell, who’s entering his third term, has already inspired an eponymous hashtag by the age of 36.
He popularized #Swalwelling by tweeting photos of his shoes while stepping onto airplanes bound for Washington or his East Bay district.
Last year, Pelosi encouraged Swalwell to found the Future Forum, a group of young Democrats focused on engaging with millennials.
And Swalwell was one of the first lawmakers to come out of the room to speak to reporters on Pelosi’s behalf after she won reelection as leader.
The loyalty to his fellow Californian has paid off.
Pelosi named him to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which decides lawmakers’ committee assignments and policy agenda, two years ago.
Democrats elected him as co-chair of the committee in the new Congress as part of their leadership expansion efforts after the election.
Swalwell is also a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Democratic leaders have been pushing his bill with Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Oversight Committee Democrat, that would create a bipartisan commission to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
Ruben Gallego (Ariz.)
Gallego, along with Reps. Seth Moulton (Mass.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), was among the House Democrats who pushed for delaying the leadership elections instead of holding them a week after a disastrous Election Day.
All three only first won election to the House in 2014 and supported Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi.
An Iraq War veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, Gallego has been front and center in debates over immigration throughout his first term. He authored a provision in a House defense policy bill last year encouraging the Pentagon to enlist young illegal immigrants in the military, which was later stripped out following outcry from conservatives.
Gallego, 37, is taking a hard line on Trump, in contrast to other Democrats signaling they’ll try to work with the president-elect. Gallego opposes granting retired Gen. James Mattis a waiver to serve as Trump’s secretary of Defense and warned against joining with Trump on an infrastructure investment bill.
He said that while infrastructure would normally be an easy area of bipartisan agreement, under Trump Democrats should be skeptical.
“He is not reaching out. He is reaching his hand into America's pockets, just as he has his whole career. And we must not let him do it,” Gallego said in a House floor speech.
Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
Gabbard is a Democratic wildcard.
At times she sounds more like a Republican, earning fawning praise in conservative media outlets for criticizing President Obama’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and. And she’s got a fan in Trump's chief strategist, Stephen Bannon.
Gabbard raised eyebrows when she met with Trump to discuss foreign policy two weeks after the election. She defended the meeting afterward by saying she’d work with Trump whenever possible.
“Let me be clear, I will never allow partisanship to undermine our national security when the lives of countless people lay in the balance,” she said.
The 35-year-old combat veteran will be watched closely during her third term for how often she bucks her party with Trump in power, and whether she starts showing interest again in a leadership position like the one she had at the DNC.