Hakeem Jeffries has detailed his most important task as future House Minority Leader: Democrats would oppose Republican attempts to roll back the Biden administration’s reform agenda. If the “MAGA Republicans”, i.e. the Trumpists in the future majority group, overdo it, he will find ways to put them in their place, he said before his election by acclamation on Wednesday.
Jeffries is betting that moderate members of the Republicans will not be yoked to party right-wing spokesman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s cart. Majorities are tight. Kevin McCarthy, who wants to become speaker in January when the new Congress is constituted, will have trouble keeping his group together if elected.
Jeffries knows how nerve-wracking that can be. As part of the leadership of the faction, he too – himself a member of the progressive wing of the faction – had to repeatedly find compromises in order to keep left-wing rebels in check. But Jeffries wants to see a difference to the Republicans: the Democrats always have loud debates, but in the end they come to an agreement.
Jeffries taunts McCarthy
It came as no surprise that Jeffries put forward his candidacy for the group leadership immediately after Nancy Pelosi announced he would serve as a rank-and-file MP. The 82-year-old outgoing spokeswoman had promoted the 30-year-old New Yorker in recent years and assigned him publicity tasks. He was part of the prosecutor’s team in the first impeachment trial against Donald Trump. His rise is part of a generational shift in Democrats. The age cohort that was born during the Second World War is stepping down at the head of the parliamentary group.
Jeffries is the first African American to lead the Democrats in the first chamber. Raised in the tough Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, he studied public administration at Georgetown University in Washington, and later law at New York University. The son of a social worker and a drug counselor worked for a time as a business lawyer.
But his goal was always politics: after six years in the New York Parliament in Albany, he was elected to Congress in 2012. Earlier, the married father of two, with the help of the party establishment, beat a Democratic incumbent in the Brooklyn congressional primary. At the time, some supporters called him the “Barack Obama of Brooklyn,” which Jeffries dismissed.
He has never had a trusting relationship with McCarthy. Jeffries is currently taunting the Republican frontman: It looks as if he has to fight to get the 218 votes needed to be elected speaker.