Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is well-prepared to walk onto the biggest stage of his life. On January 3, 2023, he will make history when he succeeds the incomparable Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the Democratic Party. It is a tall order. Speaker Pelosi is generally regarded as the GOAT—the greatest of all time. No one expects Jeffries to match Pelosi’s well-honed skills as a politician, but there is great respect for the congressman from Brooklyn. He will have a brief honeymoon as he tackles one of the most challenging jobs in Washington. He brings with him a formidable support team—his mother, Leneda, and his wife, Kennisandra Jeffries, are social workers.
Jeffries has represented the 8th Congressional District that spans eastern Brooklyn and parts of Queens for nearly a decade since replacing former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns in 2013 in a newly drawn district. Towns represented the 10th Congressional District and has nothing but high praise for his successor. He believes Jeffries will distinguish himself as the Democrats’ minority leader and will be an effective Speaker when he assumes the mantle should the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives. He sees Jeffries as a “tremendous coalition builder who can bring people together to improve the quality of life.” Towns says one of Jeffries’s most remarkable characteristics is his listening ability. Spoken like a faithful social worker.
One of Jeffries’s most significant challenges will be keeping his often fractious party together. Democrats pride themselves on being the big tent party with a wide degree of diversity on racial and ethnic lines, geographical makeup, and ideological differences that span moderates and a growing cadre of progressives, some who lean far left, often referred to as the Squad. He appears to have gotten off to a good start with a smooth ascension to the top leadership position. But that could be short-lived.
Jeffries should fly under the radar for a while as the media focus on the sure-to-be circus on the other side of the aisle as Republicans struggle to choose the next Speaker of the House. Once the apparent Speaker-designate, Kevin McCarthy is facing a strong challenge from zealous conservatives in the Freedom Caucus and has had to make concessions with colleagues in the extreme MAGA wing like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. There is no clear path to the 218 votes he will need to be elected Speaker of the House. They all don’t need to be Republican votes which has led to speculation that he could cut a highly unlikely deal with Democrats. Finally, you don’t need to be a member of Congress to be Speaker, which opened the door to speculation that Republicans might rally around former President Donald Trump, a scenario fading with each passing day.
Should McCarthy convince his Republican colleagues that he is their most logical choice to be the Speaker, getting a consensus on a governing agenda would be a massive struggle. He will need to satisfy the far-right wing of his party while considering the precarious nature of those 18 Republican members elected in districts carried by President Biden in the 2020 election who will have none of the craziness if they are to have a chance of being reelected. Craziness it will be as Republicans spend much of their time investigating Hunter Biden, Anthony Fauci, the Afghan withdrawal, and anything else they can use to try to embarrass President Biden leading up to the 2024 election.
I am interested in seeing his policy agenda. Odds are he will adhere to the neoliberal agenda of the current Democratic leadership. Departing Speaker Nancy Pelosi derived significant influence from her ability to raise large sums of money for Democrats, something Jeffries has less ability to emulate. I hope the Democrats begin to change course under his leadership by focusing on threats to our democratic political system. And there are many, beginning with economic inequality that has created an oligarchy that exerts overwhelming influence over policy. We don’t need more billionaires. We need to rebuild the middle class and relieve the suffering of millions of Americans living without essential resources.