Brooklyn Congress Member Hakeem Jeffries was formally elected House Democratic Leader Wednesday morning during a vote of the House Democratic Conference, making history as the first African American top Democrat in Washington’s lower chamber.
It was clear that Jeffries would be the most likely replacement for outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), as soon as she announced she wouldn’t be seeking reelection as the chamber’s leading Democrat earlier this month. Jeffries is set to become the House Democratic Minority Leader for the 118th Congress at the start of the new year.
In an emailed statement, Jeffries took a victory lap and congratulated Congress Members Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) and Pete Aguilar (D-California) on their elections to the positions of Democratic Whip and Caucus Leader respectively – with Clark replacing outgoing Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and Aguilar taking over for Jeffries as the caucus chair.
“Today, with immense pride, I stood in front of the House Democratic Caucus as a candidate for Democratic Leader, and I am eternally grateful for the trust my colleagues placed in me with their votes,” Jeffries said. “It is a solemn responsibility that myself, Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar are inheriting, and we will lean in hard and do the work with the seriousness and solemnity the moment requires.”
“Over the last few years, House Democrats have delivered extraordinary results for the American people,” he continued. “We are going to continue to put people over politics and fight for all our values. House Democrats will lift up working families, the middle class and those who aspire to be part of it, young people and senior citizens, veterans, the poor, the sick and the afflicted and the least, the lost and the left behind.”
While Pelosi, Clyburn and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) are stepping down from their leadership roles, they’ve all indicated that they’ll continue to serve in the House as rank-and-file members.
Pelosi’s decision followed the party losing its House majority during this year’s midterm elections, in large part due to the GOP flipping three districts and winning two open seats in the Empire State. Out of her nearly two decades as House Democratic Leader, Pelosi served as Speaker for six.
Jeffries made it clear that he’s willing to work with the incoming Republican majority whenever possible, during a news conference shortly after the Democratic Caucus leadership elections. He touted bipartisan wins over the past couple of years, like the passage of the American Rescue Plan – COVID-19 relief package – and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“Our commitment is always to extend the hand of partnership whenever and wherever possible, in order to get things done for everyday Americans,” he said. We “passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to create millions of good paying jobs, spread out all across America. We were able to do that with some help from Senate Republicans. And we welcomed that bipartisan cooperation.”
While Jeffries, a staunch moderate, has often been an outspoken critic of more left-wing Democrats, he said he’ll work with Democrats from across the political spectrum.
“Everybody matters,” Jeffries said. “Progressives, New Dems, Blue Dogs. Whether you’re from the north, the south, the east, the west, the heartland of America. Whether you’re in the center, center-left, more progressive parts of our caucus, every body matters.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn
Jeffries was born in Brooklyn Hospital and raised in Crown Heights by two public employees, he said, one a case worker and the other a social worker. He grew up in the midst of the crack cocaine epidemic that gripped the city during the 1980s and early ‘90s.
The congress member first took elected office in 2006, when he won an Assembly seat that covered parts of north and central Brooklyn. He served in Albany’s lower chamber until 2012, when he won his current Congressional seat, which covers large portions of the central and southern parts of the borough.
Jeffries was then elected House Democratic Caucus chair when his party won back the majority in the 2018 midterm elections.
With Jeffries’ ascension to be the top Democrat in the House, Washington’s two Democratic Congressional leaders will both be from Brooklyn – as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lives less than a mile away from him.
Praise from NY Dems
Once news broke of Jeffries elevation to leader of the House Democrats, local politicos at the city and state level were quick to congratulate him on the new role. Those electeds included some of Jeffries’ colleagues in the New York City Congressional Delegation like Congress Members Jerry Nadler and Adriano Espaillat, who each congratulated him on Twitter.
Additionally, Governor Kathy Hochul issued a statement saying Jeffries will continue to be a strong advocate for New York in his leadership role.
“I am proud to call Representative Jeffries a friend and am confident he will continue to be an unwavering partner as we work together to get things done for New Yorkers,” Hochul said. “New Yorkers — and all Americans — are lucky to have Representative Jeffries in their corner.”
Mayor Eric Adams said he’s looking forward to having a “good friend” and fellow Brooklyn native take the reins of the House Democratic Conference, during an unrelated press conference Tuesday.
“We spoke the other day and I’m just really excited about these two Brooklyn kids,” Adams said of himself and Jeffries. “One is running the largest city in America and the other is going to be leading his delegation in Washington. We both talked about this as a great moment for our city, and we look forward to this.”
The mayor added that having a representative from New York City in the top job could help the city with certain priorities, like securing relief funds for handling the migrant crisis.
“We have a real federal legislative agenda that we put together,” Adams said. “We’re going to be traveling to Washington and we will be sitting down speaking with him and the other delegation as well. We still have an asylum and migrant issue. New York sends billions of dollars to Washington, D.C. that oftentimes we don’t get in return. And so we are in a good place as a city, I believe, having Hakeem there.”