Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to give up her role leading the House Democrats when Republicans take power next year could pave the way for a brainy hip-hop loving lawmaker from Brooklyn to become the chamber’s next minority leader.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights is the No. 5 Democrat in the House and has carved out a reputation as one of the party’s best communicators.
Carrying strong relationships within the Democratic caucus, Jeffries, 52, is seen as the likely heir to Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker. He would be the first Black minority leader in the House.
Pelosi, an 82-year-old Democratic juggernaut from California, did not mention Jeffries in a speech Thursday detailing her plans to step down, though she did say that the “hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus.”
Jeffries, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, did not announce his plans, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the G.O.A.T,” he tweeted. “Thank you for all that you have done for America.”
But almost instantly, Jeffries’ path began to clear. Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and the House majority leader, issued a statement saying he would not vie for the minority leadership position.
“I am proud to offer my strong endorsement to Hakeem Jeffries for Democratic Leader,” Hoyer, 83, said in a letter to the caucus. “He is a skilled and capable leader.”
Plainspoken and blunt, Jeffries speaks with a Brooklyn lilt, sometimes reaching for rhymes and Bible verses.
Stumping for Gov. Hochul before a union crowd in downtown Brooklyn this month, Jeffries described former President Donald Trump as “the birther in chief” and the “hater from from Mar-a-Lago.”
“Ever since so-and-so was elected, these extreme MAGA Republicans cannot talk straight — have lost their goddamn minds,” he said. “We have Democrats who deliver, and then extreme MAGA Republicans who are totally out of control.”
If Jeffries rises to the leadership post, it will further cement Brooklyn’s status as a center of the political universe. He lives less than a mile from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Park Slope Democrat.
Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, said he would support Jeffries if he seeks the leadership and predicted the Brooklynite would “clear the field.” He described Jeffries as a “profoundly gifted orator” who commands respect from progressives and moderates alike.
“Even though he’s often the smartest person in the room, he’s a listener,” Torres said in an interview. “He makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room.”
Jeffries grew up in Crown Heights, where he has said daily distant gunshots were a fact of life, and studied in the city’s public schools. He went on to Binghamton University, Georgetown University and finally, NYU Law School.
He spent six years in the state Assembly before New York’s voters first sent him to Washington a decade ago. At one point, he was floated as a possible Democratic challenger to then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, but he did not run in 2017.
Though Jeffries is seen as deliberative, he is quick to eviscerate Republicans, and has fought for criminal justice reforms. In 2020, he served as the Democrats’ impeachment manager.
During the impeachment trial, Jeffries told a colleague that “President Trump corruptly abused his power, and then he tried to cover it up, and we are here, sir, to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution and present the truth.”
“And if you don’t know,” he said, quoting the Notorious B.I.G., “Now you know.”
After Democrats outperformed expectations in the midterm elections, Republicans are on track to hold an advantage of no more than a few House lawmakers when the next Congress is seated. Democrats hope to take back the 435-seat chamber in 2024.
The House has never had a Black speaker.
“The Rise of Hakeem Jeffries is not only a bonafide breakthrough for New York, it’s a breakthrough for the country,” Torres said. “We are one step closer to realizing the dream of the first African-American speaker.”
With Michael McAuliff and Dave Goldiner
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