On a day characterized by acrimonious infighting by Republicans, Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on Tuesday formally took over the leadership of the Democrats in the US House of Representatives.
Jeffries, a lawyer by training, was elected by Democrats in early December to replace Nancy Pelosi, of California, who stepped down as House Speaker but remains in Congress.
Jeffries – representative for the 8th Congressional District, encompassing Brooklyn and parts of Queens – on Tuesday received 212 votes each time in three rounds of voting, for Speaker of the House of Representatives, in the new session of Congress that is now narrowly controlled by Republicans.
His votes each time were more than any Republican’s, including Kevin McCarthy, who has to date failed to secure the majority of votes to be next Speaker. McCarthy on Tuesday pledged to have more rounds of voting until he is elected Speaker.
Unfortunately, Jeffries cannot be Speaker because Democrats, in the minority, does not have sufficient votes.
However, Democrats on Tuesday demonstrated sheer unity amid Republican disunity and mutiny, rallying around Jeffries,
“He does not traffic in extremism,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the No. 3 Democrat, of Mr. Jeffries in a nominating speech on the House floor.
“He does not grovel to or make excuses for a twice-impeached, so-called former president,” added Aguilar, referring to former President Donald J. Trump. “He does not bend a knee to anyone who would seek to undermine our democracy because, Madam Clerk, that’s not what leaders do.”
Earlier this month, Brooklyn Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke said she had voted with “a huge sense of pride” for her Brooklyn Congressional colleague to be leader of Congressional Democrats.
“It was with a huge sense of pride that yesterday I cast my vote to elevate my brother and dear colleague, the Hon. Hakeem Jeffries, from chairman of the Democratic Caucus to the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives,” Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told Caribbean Life.
“I consider it one of my greatest honors and a privilege of my career in Congress to be both a first-hand witness and participant in the elevation of Congressman Jeffries, who is now the youngest and first person of color or Black legislator ever elected to lead a Congressional party,” added Clarke, whose 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn juxtaposes Jeffries’ 8th Congressional District. “And what a leader Hakeem Jeffries is.
“As a fellow Brooklynite, I have had countless occasions to work closely alongside Mr. Jeffries,” continued Clarke, a senior member of both the US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee and Committee on Homeland Security, where she serves as chair of the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation Subcommittee.
“His dedication, commitment and diligence to delivering on the progress and policy that transforms the lives of the people in the communities so dear to us have been a hallmark of his service to the people of the 8th District of New York,” said Clarke, stating that she has been “fortunate to witness up-close both the breadth and depth of Rep. Jeffries’s compassion for his constituents, the fervor with which he legislates, the eloquence of his advocacy and the courageous, dogged determination with which he has led in Washington, D.C.”
The congresswoman said she has no doubt that Jeffries will “draw upon that same passion, tenacity, talent, skill and ability in his new role leading Democrats in Congress.
“Inspired by the fight against injustice, the lived experiences of the ‘least, the last and the lost’ of our civil society, as well as an abiding love for the American people, the Constitution and a healthy respect for the rule of law, I am certain that Congressman Hakeem Jeffries will continue making history now and in the years to come,” she said. “I look forward to supporting him as he does.”
In what has been described as “a display of unity” after the midterm elections in which they lost the US House of Representatives but had stronger than anticipated results, Democrats had bypassed a vote but, by acclamation, elected Jeffries to be minority leader.
Jeffries, 52, thus created history, becoming the first Black person to hold the top position in the House of Representatives.
“Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is blazing a trail for a remarkable new era of Democratic leadership, and the Brooklyn Democratic Party wholeheartedly congratulates Jeffries for his victory,” an elated Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, told Caribbean Life shortly after Jeffries’ elevation.
“Jeffries’ rapid rise from humble roots to the first Black figure to lead a party in Congress is a testament to his staunch dedication to uplifting all Americans,” added Bichotte Hermelyn, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn. “With Brooklynites leading both the Democratic House and Senate, we have leadership that truly reflects and understands the needs of our diverse mosaics across America.
“The Brooklyn Democratic Party is eager to continue advancing our borough by working with close leaders in the House and Senate,” she continued.
In congratulating Jeffries, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, noted that Jeffries is “the first Black person to take on this role.
“This is an historic moment, a well-deserved honor, a solemn responsibility, and an important opportunity to advance a vision and agenda for our nation,” he said. “I know from many years of governing alongside Rep. Jeffries that he cares deeply for our community and country, and look toward his tenure with anticipation.
“I am sure that, throughout his leadership, we will have points of disagreement, whether on policy or who is in our hip hop top-five, and I am sure that he will approach those debates and this work as he has throughout his time in office – with passion, integrity and a commitment to do good,” Williams added.
“Now, more than ever, we need to put forward bold ideas and clear progressive vision, and New York City – Brooklyn – can lead the way,” he continued. “I stand ready on the city level to act as a partner in progress, a progress already on display with today’s historic vote.”
Brooklyn Assemblymember Brian A. Cunningham (AD-43), the son of Jamaican immigrants, said: “It’s a special day in central Brooklyn, where the news of Rep. Jeffries’ rise to House Leader carries both the promise and hope that Hakeem will be the first – but not the last – leader reflective of our great community and all its diversity.
“I anticipate great things from Rep. Jeffries, a fellow Brooklynite, hailing from the iconic Black neighborhood of Crown Heights, which I now have the great honor and privilege of representing in the Assembly,” Cunningham said. “In the course of his career, Hakeem has proven himself to be a fierce advocate for justice and a devoted public servant.”
He described Jeffries as “a seasoned leader with a deep understanding of the mystical ways Washington works.
“Rep Jeffries will bring a fresh perspective to government with the next generation in mind,” said Cunningham, stating that, in 2018, Jeffries “played a major role in helping Democrats reclaim a majority in the House.”
“We are confident that Jeffries will bring his experience and leadership to the stand and pull together a united Democratic front ahead of 2024,” he added.
Jeffries ran unopposed as Democratic leader, with Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark, the former assistant speaker, elected as whip, the lead vote counter for House Democrats.
Aguilar, who was vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, replaces Jeffries as chairman of the caucus.
“A new day is dawning, and I am confident that these new leaders will capably lead our Caucus and the Congress,” said Pelosi, who was designated as “Speaker Emerita” in a unanimous vote by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Immediately after his election, Jeffries said: “I stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm and others,” referring to the late Caribbean American congresswoman, whose parents hailed from Barbados and Guyana.
Chisholm (Nov. 30, 1924 – Jan. 1, 2005) became the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress in 1968.
She represented New York’s then 12th Congressional District, now the 8th Congressional District that Jeffries represents.
Chisholm was also first Black candidate for a major-party nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Jeffries said he plans to “lead an effort that centers our communication strategy around the messaging principle that values unite, issues divide,” he said. “More must be done to combat inflation, defend our democracy, secure reproductive freedom, welcome new Americans, promote equal protection under the law and improve public safety throughout this country.”
US Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said he knew Jeffries, his Brooklyn neighbor, for years.
He told the New York Times that Jeffries “always had the leg up” in the race to succeed Pelosi.
“He’s very good at reaching out to people of many ideologies,” Schumer said. “There’s going to be a whole bunch of Republicans who are not going to be happy with the MAGA direction of the party, and I couldn’t think of a better person to work with them to try and get some things done.”
Jeffries said on his website that since President Biden took office in January 2021, Jeffries has been instrumental in House Democratic efforts to “put people over politics by lowering costs, creating better-paying jobs and fighting for safer communities.”
He noted that, over the past two years, Democrats have passed the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Last year, Jeffries said he was able to secure $21.9 million for projects in Brooklyn to provide food for the hungry, fund overdue improvements to medical centers, support organizations working to uplift neighborhoods, and deepen cultural understanding and more through the 2022 Community Project Funding process.
In the spring 2022, he said he successfully fought against the splitting of Bedford Stuyvesant into multiple Congressional Districts during the “broken and gravely flawed redistricting process unleashed by partisan Republicans and their judicial co-conspirators in New York.”
Prior to his election to the Congress, Jeffries served for six years in the New York State Assembly.
In that capacity, he authored laws to protect the civil liberties of law-abiding New Yorkers during police encounters, encouraged the transformation of vacant luxury condominiums into affordable homes for working families and improved the quality of justice in the civil court system.
Congressman Jeffries obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he graduated with honors for outstanding academic achievement.
He then received his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. Thereafter, Rep. Jeffries attended New York University School of Law, where he graduated magna cum laude and served on Law Review.
After completing law school, Rep. Jeffries clerked for the Hon. Harold Baer Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
He then practiced law for several years at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, an internationally renowned law firm, and served as counsel in the litigation department of Viacom Inc. and CBS.
He also worked as of-counsel at Godosky & Gentile, a well-regarded litigation firm in New York City.
Jeffries was born in Brooklyn Hospital, raised in Crown Heights and is a product New York City’s public school system, having graduated from Midwood High School. He lives in Prospect Heights with his family.
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