Hakeem Jeffries May Be The Next Democratic Leader In The House Of Representatives
The New York Congressman is the front-runner to take over for Nancy Pelosi during a crucial time for Democrats and Black Americans.
January 17, 2022 at 1:37 am
Big changes are expected for the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2022 elections. One of the most notable shifts on the horizon is that Representative Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House who has been the Democratic Party Leader in the House since 2003, is expected to step down from her leadership role next year. New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries is the early favorite to replace Pelosi at the top of Democratic leadership in the House. If chosen, Jeffries would be the first Black person to lead either major party in Congress. His ascension would mark an important change of guard and an opportunity for the New York Congressman to put his stamp on the Democratic Party.
Democrats seek to make history and look toward a future with Jeffries.
So far, Pelosi has not officially announced that she is stepping down from her leadership role, but in 2018, the Speaker pledged to only serve as the leader for four more years. As the Washington Post recently reported, Jeffries has the broad support of Black, Hispanic and Asian caucuses in the House. More generally, House Democrats are broadly in agreement that the selection of their next leaders should be as groundbreaking as their choice of Pelosi as the first woman to lead the party, and they see the choice of a Black man for the role as an important moment in history.
Furthermore, 51-year-old Jeffries is at least thirty years younger than Pelosi and other top House Democrats like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip James Clyburn. Jeffries' possible selection to the top Democratic House position is therefore seen as representing a necessary change of guard to a younger generation of leadership.
Jeffries could bridge the gap between centrists and progressives — or widen it.
In recent years, the House Democratic caucus has been divided between its progressive wing, which includes high-profile legislators like The Squad, and more moderate Democrats. The two blocks have differed, in substance and rhetoric, in everything from fiscal policy to police reform. Jeffries has had a complicated relationship with the progressive wing of the party. Though Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Progressive Congress, some of his positions on financial and foreign policy lean more conservative. Jeffries has also had harsh words for the party’s left-wing. “The extreme left is obsessed with talking trash about mainstream Democrats on Twitter, when the majority of the electorate constitutes mainstream Democrats at the polls,” Jeffries argued in a New York Times interview last August. “In the post-Trump era, the anti-establishment line of attack is lame,” he added, arguing that the party should focus more on the Biden administration's economic achievements.
Progressive Democratic groups like The Squad and the Justice Democrats have been negative about Jeffries in the past, viewing him as too close to corporate interests and current elites. Despite the mutual hostility between Jeffries and some of his more progressive colleagues, the Washington Post indicates that The Squad is not interested in opposing Jeffries for the leadership position in the House, as they are more focused on policies than positions.
Jeffries, for his part, has more recently painted the divides within his party as beneficial. “We embrace the fact that there's a broad ideological diversity, as well as racial diversity, gender, sexual orientation, religious, life experiences, and region,” he said during an October appearance at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. “I think that's what makes House Democrats the most authentic representative of the American people in the institution.”
A hostile relationship with Republicans awaits.
If Jeffries does end up leading Democrats in the House, he will likely have to contend with a counterpart in Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who will likely become Speaker if Republicans gain a majority for 2023. There’s already little love lost between the two members of Congress, each of whom has responded “who?” when asked about the other.
Among other public spats, McCarthy criticized Jeffries for tweeting that jurors should “lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key” during the Kenosha shooter’s trial. Jeffries has in turn ridiculed McCarthy’s moral authority; “does anyone take this guy seriously on any issue particularly as it relates to ethics," Jeffries said of McCarthy’s support for a ban on stock trading by members of Congress.
Beyond hostility from McCarthy and other House Republicans, Jeffries has also drawn more worrisome hatred for his political affiliation; he was one of the dozens of people targeted with criminal threats from a California man angry at former President Donald Trump’s election loss. And when Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill a year ago, Jeffries was one of several members of Congress who were prepared to fight the insurrectionists if it came to that. “I said, you know what, if it’s on, it’s on,” Rep. Jeffries recounted shortly after the attack. “We are not going to be overrun by these seditious Trump supporters, and it’s just going to be what is going to be.”
Brooklyn in the House (of Representatives).
Jeffries’ fighting spirit was developed in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he grew up and still lives with his family. After practicing law for several years, Jeffries entered politics, serving in the New York state legislature before being elected to Congress. Even with his role in national leadership, he has remained closely connected to the politics and policies of New York City. Showing his mix of progressive and centrist political leanings, Jeffries endorsed progressive candidate Maya Wiley in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary last year, but later supported the more conservative Eric Adams on his way to winning the general election.
Jeffries has also demonstrated his New York roots by repeatedly paying homage to one of Brooklyn’s most famous residents from the House floor. Jeffries honored the Notorious B.I.G. on the 20th anniversary of his death and even quoted Biggie during Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Hakeem Jeffries responds to Jay Sekulow who asked “why are we here?”:
“We are here, sir, because President Trump corruptly abused his power and then he tried to cover it up… That is why we are here Mr. Sekulow. And if you don’t know, now you know.” pic.twitter.com/SIxq5D9a3l
— Rantt Media (@RanttMedia) January 22, 2020
With Jeffries rising quickly within the ranks of the Democratic Party and remaining the top choice to take over for Pelosi next year, Brooklyn will indeed be in the House.