Heard Around Town

No “pushback” against two Brooklyn leaders, as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries ascends

The Brooklyn Congress member will be House Democratic leader, while neighbor Chuck Schumer remains U.S. Senate majority leader.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Screenshot by Jeff Coltin

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries will formally be elected House Democratic leader this morning against all geographic odds – since U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lives less than a mile away from him, in Brooklyn. But representatives from other states aren’t feeling like they got pushed out, upon Californian Nancy Pelosi stepping down as House speaker. “There has not been any pushback in that regard,” Jeffries told reporters at a briefing yesterday. “The House is the House. The Senate is the Senate, with due respect to the Senate. But the House works its own will.”

Brooklyn is having a moment, where sons of the borough now hold all three citywide elected positions for the first time in history. And Jeffries pointed to his Crown Heights upbringing – “the child of two working-class parents from a predominantly African American neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York,” he said, “coming of age during some rough times as it relates to the crack cocaine era, but also being surrounded by an incredibly loving community” – as well as his experiences learning and working in racially and ethnically diverse spaces as formative. 

Jeffries has been laying the groundwork for the leadership run for years. Speaking this week with City & State, political strategist Ruben Diaz Jr. recalled their years in Albany together as Assembly members. Jeffries would force his fellow Democrats to slow down and listen to each other in conference meetings. And in floor debates, “he was cool, calm, methodical, logical, articulate – it’s like an art form,” Diaz said, recalling great rappers for his fellow hip-hop head. “He’s like Nas on the mic. He’s like Rakim on the mic. He’s smooth. When he is debating, it’s almost poetic if you listen to him.”

New York’s democratic socialists and leftists have had to hear a lot from Jeffries over the past few years. He has never been shy to challenge them and promote his own, more moderate politics as the heart of the party. But the always-careful speaker may be softening his rhetoric as he ascends the leadership ranks. “We need every single member of the House Democratic Caucus on the playing field,” he said. “Playing the right position, but on the field, working hard, contributing, allowing their brilliance and creativity to be part of the legislative process, so we can produce the best possible result.”

It’s not all New York in Washington, D.C. The state of California, home to more than three dozen Democratic congress members, will be on the field too. Rep. Pete Aguilar, who represents a suburban Los Angeles district, is part of Jeffries’ leadership team, and two Californians are reportedly vying to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – currently chaired by New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who lost reelection. Also a California Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, is the leading contender to be speaker of the House, if he can get the votes together. Asked Tuesday what his relationship is like with McCarthy, Jeffries suggested that there wasn’t one. “I serve with him in the United States House of Representatives,” Jeffries said, leaving it at that.