Average age of House Democrats

Republicans

70 years old

70 years old

70

Leadership

Leadership

61

60

60

59

56

57

Upcoming

Congress

Upcoming

Congress

50

50

50

Entire party

Entire party

1963

2019

1963

2019

Average age of

House Democrats

Republicans

70 years old

70 years old

70

Leadership

Leadership

61

60

60

59

56

57

Upcoming

Congress

Upcoming

Congress

50

50

50

Entire party

Entire party

1963

2019

1963

2019

Average age of House Democrats

70 years old

70

Leadership

61

60

59

Upcoming

Congress

50

Entire party

1963

2019

Republicans

70 years old

Leadership

60

56

57

Upcoming

Congress

50

50

Entire party

1963

2019

Average age of House Democrats

70 years old

70

Leadership

61

60

59

Upcoming

Congress

50

Entire party

1963

2019

Republicans

70 years old

Leadership

60

56

57

Upcoming

Congress

50

50

Entire party

1963

2019

Average age of House Democrats

70 years old

70

Leadership

61

60

59

Upcoming

Congress

50

Entire party

1963

2019

Republicans

70 years old

Leadership

60

56

57

Upcoming

Congress

50

50

Entire party

1963

2019

Leadership includes speaker of the House, majority leader, minority leader and whips.

There’s a new crop of lawmakers coming to Capitol Hill, with some three generations removed from the current Democratic leadership. That divide — set to be the largest in more than 50 years — has an insurgent group of younger Democrats calling for change at the top.

As House Democrats welcome dozens of Gen Xers and their first sizable group of millennials, their numbers could complicate California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the speakership. Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the top three House Democrats, are all approaching their 80s.

[Does Pelosi have the votes to become speaker?]

While no Democrat has emerged to challenge Pelosi, at least eight freshmen have indicated they will not back her for speaker. There is a chance that those “no” votes, combined with those of incumbents who oppose her, could prevent Pelosi from moving forward when the new lawmakers are sworn in come January.

Age distribution of House Democrats Hover for lawmaker info
Newly elected Previously in House

House Republicans
Newly elected Previously in House

Age distribution of House Democrats

Newly elected

Previously in House

Millennials

Generation X

Baby boomers

Silent generation

14 new,

16 total

29 new,

69 total

14 new,

119 total

1 new,

27 total

Pelosi

30

years

40

50

60

70

80

House Republicans

Newly elected

Previously in House

Millennials

Generation X

Baby boomers

Silent generation

6 new,

10 total

14 new,

64 total

10 new,

113 total

1 new,

11 total

McCarthy

30

years

40

50

60

70

80

Age distribution of House Democrats

Newly elected

Previously in House

Millennials

Generation X

Baby boomers

Silent generation

14 new,

16 total

29 new,

69 total

14 new,

119 total

1 new,

27 total

Pelosi

30

years

40

50

60

70

80

House Republicans

Newly elected

Previously in House

Millennials

Generation X

Baby boomers

Silent generation

6 new,

10 total

14 new,

64 total

10 new,

113 total

1 new,

11 total

McCarthy

30

years

40

50

60

70

80

Age distribution of House

Newly elected

Previously in House

Democrats

Republicans

Millenials

30

years

Generation X

40

50

McCarthy

Baby

boomers

60

70

Silent

Generation

Pelosi

80

Age distribution of House

Newly elected

Previously in House

Democrats

Republicans

Millenials

30

years

Generation X

40

50

McCarthy

Baby

boomers

60

70

Silent

Generation

Pelosi

80

Six races had not yet been called as of 11 a.m. Friday, so those representatives are excluded from this chart. Generation definitions from Pew Research Center.

Baby boomers are by far the largest generation in both House Democratic and Republican ranks, making up 52 and 57 percent of each caucus, respectively.

But no one, baby boomer or otherwise, has emerged as an obvious foil to Pelosi since the election. Fifty-six year-old Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), once considered a possible replacement, unexpectedly lost his primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at the time a 28-year-old activist. She is poised to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Republicans, too, added millennials to their ranks. Six new Republicans are of that generation including Dan Crenshaw (Tex.) and Bryan Steil, who will replace Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st District.

[Dan Crenshaw started the week as a punchline and ended it as a star. The real story came before that.]

But the average age for Republicans will inch up in the next Congress, after the defeat of some younger GOP incumbents and failure of other young candidates to pick up open seats.

In 1994, Republicans, led by House speaker Newt Gingrich, instituted term limits for committee chairmen, and several opted to retire this year. Democrats do not have a similar term-limit rule on committee chairmen.

“I've got to tell you my position has not changed,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who unseated an incumbent and called for new leadership in her campaign. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Incoming lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks with reporters after a member-elect class photo on Wednesday. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Pelosi has marketed herself as the experienced political force that Democrats need to stand up to the president and the lone female voice in high-level discussions. Some have suggested that Pelosi, the first woman to serve as speaker, could return if she replaces some of her deputies with younger leaders and promises to serve only until 2020.

The vote will be an early test of loyalty among those who expressed skepticism or outright refused during the campaign to back Pelosi.

“I made a commitment to my district that I would not be supporting Nancy Pelosi,” said Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill, a 46-year-old Democrat who flipped New Jersey’s 11th District. “I think there are some great people that will be coming forward, and I’m excited to see who those people might be.”

Reps.-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), center, and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), to her right in blue, have said they will vote against Pelosi for speaker of the House. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Several incoming lawmakers ran in areas Donald Trump won in 2016 and distanced themselves from Pelosi, who Republicans have caricatured as a symbol of liberal elitism.

“I am not voting for her — no if, ands or buts, under any circumstances,” Rep.-elect Max Rose, 31, told Fox News. Rose beat a Republican incumbent for this Staten Island-based district that Trump carried by 10 points.

Not all freshman Democrats have expressed opposition to Pelosi’s leadership. Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that she admires that Pelosi “comes from a space of activism and organizing.” The same day, Ocasio-Cortez rallied climate change activists who were waging a sit-in in Pelosi’s office.

“Nancy Pelosi has proven herself as a first-rate legislator,” said Rep.-elect Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) on Tuesday. Shalala, a former Clinton Cabinet official, is the oldest member of the freshman class at 77 years old.

If enough lawmakers, especially the freshmen, choose to back Pelosi, she would be the first speaker to regain the gavel since Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.) did so in 1955 at age 72. Pelosi would begin the term at 78.

Age of House speakers

Start of speakership

End

Democrat

Republican

Pelosi?

80 years old

Rayburn

Rayburn

70

Pelosi

McCormack

Martin

Wright

O’Neill

Albert

Martin

60

Boehner

Foley

Hastert

Rayburn

50

Gingrich

Ryan

40

1940

1960

1980

2000

2018

Age of House speakers

Democrat

Republican

Start of speakership

End

80 years old

Pelosi?

Rayburn

70

Rayburn

Pelosi

McCormack

Martin

Wright

O’Neill

Albert

60

Martin

Boehner

Foley

Rayburn

Hastert

50

Gingrich

Ryan

40

1940

1960

1980

2000

2018

Age of House speakers

Democrat

Start of speakership

End

Republican

Pelosi?

80 years old

70

Pelosi

Martin

60

O’Neill

Boehner

Rayburn

50

Gingrich

Ryan

40

1940

1960

1980

2000

2018

Age of House speakers

Democrat

Start of speakership

End

Republican

Pelosi?

80 years old

70

Pelosi

Martin

60

O’Neill

Boehner

Rayburn

50

Gingrich

Ryan

40

1940

1960

1980

2000

2018

Age of House speakers

Democrat

Republican

Start of speakership

End

Pelosi?

80 years old

70

Pelosi

60

Boehner

Rayburn

50

Gingrich

Ryan

40

1940

1960

1980

2000

2018

Democrats will formally nominate their candidate for speaker after Thanksgiving.

Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

About this story

House membership data from the United States Project, based on the Congressional Biographical Directory. Leadership data from the House Office of the Historian. Generation definitions from Pew Research Center. Incoming lawmaker birthdates from CQ/Roll Call.

Originally published Nov. 14, 2018.

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