Who Is Hakeem Jeffries?

On November 17, 2022, as NPR News reported, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that she would not run for any other House of Representatives leadership positions. Her announcement was not unexpected since Republicans won control of the legislative body in the 2022 midterm election and will be the majority party. This means that Republicans get to elect the next Speaker of the House (Kevin McCarthy is likely to get the job, according to The Washington Post).

Just because Democrats are not the majority party in the House does not mean that there are no longer any internal leadership positions, however. The positions of House Minority Leader and House Minority Whip are still available. And if internal scuttlebutt coming from Washington is to be believed, the Democrats are looking to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York to be their guy. Specifically, as Puck News reports, Pelosi hand-picked Jeffries to succeed her as the Democrats' leader in the House.

Hakeem Jeffries, Gen-X Lawyer

When Nancy Pelosi gave her speech indicating that she was stepping down from House leadership positions, she was 82 years old, according to Britannica. The man likely to replace her as their party's leader in the House is a solid 30 years younger — young enough to be Pelosi's son. As The Washington Times reports, Hakeem Jeffries was born August 4, 1970, squarely in the middle of Generation X. Jeffries was born in Brooklyn, according to OZY, and he lived there for most of his life, save for a couple of years in college. His congressional district — New York's 8th — includes poorer, predominantly Black and immigrant-occupied sections of the city.

After getting his law degree, Jeffries eventually landed a job as an attorney with CBS/Viacom, according to Crain's New York Business. He was eventually elected to the New York State Assembly, according to Yahoo! News, and then, in 2012, to the House of Representatives.

'Brooklyn's Barack'

Throughout his career, as The Washington Post reports, Jeffries has drawn comparisons to President Barack Obama. Around his home district, according to OZY, he's even earned a nickname, "Brooklyn's Barack." Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch said (via The Washington Post), "They're both African-American, they're both strikingly handsome, and they're both highly intelligent. Both of them have wonderful smiles."

Jeffries has also been mentioned in the same breath as Obama because his political positions don't always match up with those of the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party. "Like Obama, Jeffries has earned some ire from liberals for his moderation," writes Rachel Weiner of Jeffries in the Washington Post. For his part, Jeffries shrugs off comparisons to the former president, noting that their similarities begin and end with them having the same birthdate. Further, Jeffries is not interested in ever running for president, as he said via OZY.

Jeffries' Positions and Legislative Record

Jeffries has been compared to Barack Obama at least in part because both men have advocated for positions and legislation that are inconsistent with more progressive goals within the Democratic Party. For example, on the one hand, as a New York State Assemblyman, he was responsible for passing a law that prevents law enforcement from keeping the personal data of individuals stopped by the police without any criminal action taken against them, according to The Washington Post, and has advocated for making the possession of cannabis a misdemeanor. On the other hand, as Vox points out, Jeffries has raised the ire of progressives for his support of (and taking money from) business interests, and he backed a political action committee aimed at electing more moderate Democrats as opposed to more progressive-leaning ones.

According to his biography on the House of Representatives website, Jeffries states that he "has been instrumental in House Democratic efforts to put people over politics by lowering costs, creating better-paying jobs and fighting for safer communities."

The First Black Congressional Party Leader?

On November 18, 2022, as CNN reported, Jeffries officially launched his bid to become House Minority Leader, taking over leadership of his party in the House after nearly two decades of Nancy Pelosi serving in that role. In a letter to his colleagues, Jeffries made it clear that one of his goals over the next two years is to see more Democrats elected to the House, possibly with a view towards taking over the majority — and Jeffries being elected to Speaker of the House — after the 2024 election. "Our top non-governmental priority, for the sake of the American people, must be retaking the majority in November 2024," Jeffries wrote.

According to Vox, as of Pelosi's announcement, Jeffries is the head of the House Democratic Caucus, making him fifth on the list of ranking Democrats. Should he win House Minority Leader, he'd be the first Black party leader in the House.

Some predict that Jeffries might be a shoo-in for the job, too. Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, the Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, certainly expects her caucus to throw their support behind Jeffries. "I'm very clear that Hakeem Jeffries is the person that I will be voting for and leading the Congressional Black Caucus to vote for," she said.

A Fractured Democratic Party?

Should Hakeem Jeffries be elected to the role of House Minority Leader, he'll be put into a position of leadership of a party that, as Vox suggests, is fractured. Specifically, the party is competing within itself for its direction: Will it lean into the more progressive caucus, headed by notable progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (above)? Or will it lean into its more moderate wing, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of the bipartisan Problem Solver's Caucus?

Jeffries' predecessor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, was skilled in threading the needle between those two competing ideologies. "Among Democrats, she was seen as neither overly radical nor too conservative," writes Li Zhu for Vox, noting that Pelosi handed out committee assignments and leadership positions in a way that gave all Democrat lawmakers and their concerns a seat at the table. Jeffries, or whoever takes over Pelosi's leadership position, will be tasked with doing the same, presenting a "united front," as Vox describes it, both while Democrats are in the minority in the House and, should the party regain its majority in 2024, as the majority party.