By Yoonji Han
WASHINGTON, DC — US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries officially launched his bid to be Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s successor on Friday. The congressman is widely expected to succeed Pelosi as House Democratic leader next year.
Jeffries, a Brooklyn native, would make history by becoming the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress. And, at 52, Jeffries would represent a generational change from the current House Democratic leaders, who are three decades his senior as Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82 years old.
While some people regard Jeffries as a leader who could usher in positive change with issues concerning racial justice and voting rights, there are others who believe his history of opposition toward some left-wing progressive issues signal a less dramatic shift in Democratic leadership.
Throughout his political career, Jeffries has been active in supporting legislation around redistricting to help marginalized communities.
In 2010, Jeffries sponsored and passed a law that ended counting prison populations of upstate districts as part of the public population, a practice that had long been criticized as disenfranchising poor, urban, and minority neighborhoods by undercounting their population, the New York Times reported. New York became the second state to end this practice.
Republicans accused the law of being politically-motivated, but Democrats, including Jeffries, argued that the issue was not about politics, but about equality.
“The practice of inmate-based gerrymandering fundamentally undermines the principle of one person, one vote, by reallocating political power to a handful of upstate, rural communities,” Jeffries told the New York Times in 2010.
This past May, Jeffries fought fiercely against a proposed congressional map that would divide historically Black neighborhoods in New York. In a video advertisement, he called the changes “a sledgehammer to Black districts. It’s enough to make Jim Crow blush.”
“We are prepared to do everything necessary under the law to right the wrong that has been visited upon communities of color,” Jeffries told the New York Times.
Jeffries has also been vocal about his civil rights advocacy, particularly with policing and racial injustice.
While serving in the New York State Assembly from 2007 to 2012, Jeffries authored a bill to scrap the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk database, which contained the names of individuals — many of them Black and Hispanic — who had been stopped by police.
The bill was successful, and a federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York’s stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional.
As a member of Congress, Jeffries also called for a Department of Justice investigation into Eric Garner’s death. In April 2015, he stood with Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, to announce the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act that criminalized the use of the chokehold under federal law.
Jeffries has been accused of remaining silent on some progressive issues his Democratic colleagues have endorsed.
When all New York City House Democrats sent a public letter to Pelosi urging her to protect $80 billion for public housing in the Build Back Better Act in 2021, Jeffries was the only member not to sign the letter.
Jeffries has similarly refused to sign the Green New Deal, which younger progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have espoused, but which other centrist Democrats like Pelosi have dismissed as “the green dream, or whatever they call it.”
“The extreme left is obsessed with talking trash about mainstream Democrats on Twitter, when the majority of the electorate constitute mainstream Democrats at the polls,” Jeffries told the New York Times last year.
Jeffries has said that he believes that activists are too caught up in thinking about changing society through environmental goals, rather than the systemic racism that he contends are higher-priority issues, according to the Atlantic.
In 2021, Jeffries started Team Blue, a PAC formed specifically to protect Democratic incumbents from primary challengers. His co-founder was Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a conservative Democrat who also staunchly opposed the Build Back Better Act.
The congressman has also made statements declaring pro-Israel beliefs and has supported legislation that would penalize companies and Americans that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
“There’s a difference between progressive Democrats and hard-left democratic socialists,” Jeffries told the Atlantic in 2021. “I’m a Black progressive Democrat concerned with addressing racial and social and economic injustice with the fierce urgency of now. That’s been my career, that’s been my journey, and it will continue to be as I move forward for however long I have an opportunity to serve. There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.”