House Democratic Caucus Chair and Brooklyn U.S. Rep. Hakeem S. Jeffries is the next Dem leader after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped down two weeks ago. He’s the first Black person to hold the position in history.
Pelosi, 82, was already ground-breaking in that she was the first woman to hold that position for the last 20 years. She announced on Nov. 17 that she was staying in Congress but stepping down as leadership. A Brooklyn native, 52, Jeffries is an unshakeable ally of Pelosi’s and has long been considered next in line to replace her as speaker, a point solidified by the fact that he managed to run unopposed.
In a brief Q&A with the press on Tuesday, Nov. 29, Jeffries promised to beat back the “red wave” and extremism in the House while simultaneously finding “common ground” with Republicans whenever possible. He advocated for a comprehensive report of the midterm elections to analyze what Democrats can do to win back congressional seats lost in New York State. He said that the Democratic way of being for the people is “not a slogan but a way of life” he intends to uphold.
“We look forward to the challenges that lie ahead for our country,” said Jeffries. “We’re going to continue to fight for values that lift up working families, middle class folks, those who aspire to be part of the middle class, young people, seniors citizens, veterans. The poor, the sick, the afflicted, the least, the lost and the left behind.”
Considering some of the tension between progressive Democrats and more centrist members, Jeffries also vowed to bring more cohesion to the caucus. Jeffries courted support from all Democratic congress members with individual letters he sent on Nov. 18 explaining why he believed he should be the next Democratic leader. In the letter, he wrote that he would “empower” each member of the caucus despite ideologies, increase security around members to protect against political violence, and focus on reclaiming the majority in the House.
He pointedly spoke about how “sad” the violence against political members and their family is and that it should not be tolerated. Especially after the shocking assault and attempted kidnapping of Pelosi’s husband at her home in San Francisco.
Jeffries grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and attended Midwood public high school. He became a lawyer, working as an administrator, clerk, associate and assistant general counsel. Eventually, he ran for office. He was a New York State Assembly member in District 57 from 2007 to 2013 and has represented the 8th Congressional District as a congress member since 2013.
“It’s my goal to make sure that I am who I am,” said Jeffries, “a child of two working class parents from a predominantly African American neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, coming of age during some rough times as it relates to the crack, cocaine era but also being surrounded by an incredibly loving community.”
He had unwavering support from cohorts such as House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn.
“I’m proud to give my resounding endorsement to Hakeem Jeffries for Democratic Leader. Whether as the co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee or the chair of our House Democratic Caucus, he has demonstrated his indispensable leadership time and time again,” said Hoyer in a statement.
Hoyer said that Jeffries played an important role in enacting legislation, including the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act twice. Hoyer also boasted of Jeffries’ poise as one of the managers of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Additionally, Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn threw her support behind Jeffries as Pelosi’s successor. “Brooklyn’s own Rep. Hakeem Jeffries has dedicated his entire career to uplifting Brooklynites, and his remarkable rise from humble roots to chair of the House Democratic Caucus is a testament to his skilled leadership, legislative abilities and keen understanding of the needs of his constituents,” said Bichotte Hermelyn in a statement.
House Democrats gathered on Nov. 30 to begin organizing for the historic 118th Congress and cement Jeffries as speaker. Now that he’s been elected, Jeffries will potentially face off with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. He had little to say of their working relationship other than the fact that he “served with him in the United States House of Representatives.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics in New York City for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1