House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Thursday he will remain in Congress next year but won’t seek a leadership position, joining Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who had announced the same decision moments before. 

The surprise development clears the way for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the current chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, to jump several rungs up the leadership ladder to replace Pelosi in the next Congress, when Republicans will take control of the lower chamber. 

In a letter to fellow Democrats, Hoyer said he’s proud of his work in leadership, but “now is the time for a new generation of leaders.” He quickly endorsed Jeffries, who faces no other challenger.

“I look forward to serving as a resource to him, to the rest of our Democratic leadership team, and to our entire Caucus in whatever capacity I can best be of assistance as we move forward together to address the nation’s challenges,” Hoyer wrote. 

Hoyer, a 42-year veteran of Capitol Hill, said he intends to return to the powerful Appropriations Committee — a post he had held before joining leadership — to work on issues including education, health care and efforts to boost domestic manufacturing. 

“I also look forward to continuing my focus on voting rights, civil rights, and human rights which I have made priorities throughout my public life,” he wrote.

Hoyer has been the No. 2 House Democrat, just behind Pelosi, since 2003. He was long thought to be the heir apparent to the top spot whenever Pelosi decided to bow out. 

As the years stretched on under Pelosi’s reign, however, the composition of the caucus shifted, from one featuring a considerable number of moderates to a more liberal-heavy group — a shift thought to have disadvantaged the centrist Hoyer.  

In addition, the long tenure of Pelosi, Hoyer and Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, had frustrated the ambitions of younger lawmakers eager to join the leadership ranks. With Pelosi stepping down, the other two instantly became more vulnerable to internal challenges. 

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, said Thursday that the group was likely to vote unanimously for Jeffries, who is a member, over any potential challenger, including Hoyer. 

Instead, Hoyer will step down and join the rank and file in the next Congress. 

“I look forward to working with all of you in the coming days and months to pursue the policies that will build a stronger, fairer, and more just America ‘For the People,’” he wrote. 

Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, for his part said he looked forward to assisting “our new generation of Democratic Leaders,” naming Jeffries and Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) — who are expected to seek the top three spots, respectively.

Multiple sources told The Hill that Clyburn also wants to remain in the top tiers of leadership, and that he would run for the assistant leader role. That was the No. 3 spot the last time Democrats were in the minority, but would fall to the No. 4 slot in the next Congress, behind Caucus chair, according to the sources. 

In that scenario, Aguilar, who was expected to seek the assistant leader position, would aim for Caucus chair instead. It’s unclear what that shift, if it materializes, would mean for Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), who is running for Caucus chairman. 

“Speaker Pelosi has left an indelible mark on Congress and the country, and I look forward to her continued service and doing whatever I can to assist our new generation of Democratic Leaders which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar,” Clyburn said in a statement. 

Mychael Schnell contributed. Updated at 5:55 p.m.