WASHINGTON — Majority Leader Jim Clyburn, DSC, overcame a leadership challenge Thursday and will remain among the House’s top Democrats in the next Congress.

Clyburn had faced a last-minute surprise challenge from Rep. David Cicilline, DR.I., for assistant leader, the No. 4 spot, but the latter dropped his bid moments before the vote and endorsed Clyburn, members leaving the closed-door vote said.

Cicilline’s decision means Clyburn, 82, will remain in the leadership at a time of generational change for the party.

Some younger Democrats expressed frustration that Clyburn chose to remain in the leadership, even after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also 82, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, announced their plans to step aside for a new generation of leaders. Clyburn, the current majority whip, has served in the Democratic leadership for nearly two decades.

Cicilline, who is openly gay and chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, stood up during Thursday’s election and delivered a moving speech about the importance of having an LGBTQ voice at the leadership table, members said.

«The point I wanted to make is a legitimate one, and that is that LGBTQ members are an important part of our caucus and we didn’t have one in any leadership position,» said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a Clyburn loyalist and fellow caucus. Member of the Black Caucus, he told NBC News.

«I think everyone understands that we probably should have been a little more intentional during the move to get people to apply for the positions.»

Cleaver and other Democrats said they would push to create a new leadership position for an LGBTQ member after hearing from Cicilline.

As assistant leader, Clyburn will serve along with a list of new leaders. His protégé, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 52, of New York, will serve as Minority Leader in the next Congress and will be the first black lawmaker to lead a political party caucus in either house. Democrats also chose Rep. Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts, as Minority Leader, and Pete Aguilar, 43, of California, as Democratic Caucus chair.

Cicilline, 61, announced his surprise challenge against Clyburn on Wednesday, arguing that Democrats needed LGBTQ representation in the leadership and saying he was inspired to run after the recent shooting in Colorado Springs at an LGBTQ nightclub.

But his offer was short-lived. Cicilline abandoned the race on Thursday morning, after less than 24 hours.

Although some younger Democrats had argued that Clyburn should step aside, the South Carolina Democrat told «Face the Nation» on Sunday that he wanted to remain in a leadership role so his party would still have representation from the South. Clyburn’s supporters also argued that it was important to have an experienced member in leadership.

«When you’re in a tough spot, you turn to the old quarterback, Tom Brady. That’s the way things are in life,» Cleaver said. «People who have already had those experiences can give young people great advice.»

rebecca shabad Y Sarah Mimms contributed.