January 29, 2023

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Meet the first black party leader in Congressional history

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Meet the first black party leader in Congressional history

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Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has officially become the first black party leader in Congressional history.


Jeffries, elected by Democrats today, had run unopposed, announcing his candidacy shortly after Nancy Pelosi declared that she would be relinquishing her position in the party.

As an older generation of Dems begins to step away from the podium, the 52-year-old Democrat will inaugurate a new group of leaders, including Katherine Clark (D-MA), said to be popular among progressives, who will hold the #2 (whip) position, and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), more moderate, who will succeed to Jeffries’s old position of caucus chair.

Jeffries is a born and bred New Yorker, originally from Brooklyn and currently representing a district that incorporates sections of Brooklyn and Queens. A lawyer, he has served in the House for a decade now, distinguishing himself as a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Some of his biggest issues have been affordable housing and prison reform. He led the effort to see through the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill that sought to reduce the federal prison rate and which Donald Trump signed into law in 2018.

Yet some hold concerns that Jeffries is not progressive enough, and that he might alienate the more liberal members of the caucus, like fellow New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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But Jeffries has committed himself to being a uniter. Recently, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper that diversity is one of the Democrats’ best qualities.

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“The majesty of the House Democratic caucus,” he said, “is that we are so incredibly diverse – in terms of race and gender and religion and sexual orientation, region, life experience, and even ideology….”

Though there may be “noisy conversations,” he said, Democrats have “constantly been able to come together – time and time again…saving the economy, putting shots in arms, money in pockets, kids back in school, [passing the] Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, creating millions of good paying jobs, fixing our crumbling infrastructure, gun safety legislation…”

He has also emphasized the Democrats’ devotion to maintaining democracy and voting rights.

While Jeffries will not have the heat that Pelosi had as Speaker of the House and will be able to learn more gradually while in the minority, he will undoubtedly be faced with numerous challenges from a Republican Party intent on obstructing the Biden administration.

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Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.

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