Hakeem Jeffries’s Test of a Lifetime: Filling Nancy Pelosi’s Shoes | Vanity Fair

2022-12-03 17:12:09 By : Mr. Tai Sheng

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories. Kids Folding Chair

Hakeem Jeffries’s Test of a Lifetime: Filling Nancy Pelosi’s Shoes | Vanity Fair

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

I climbed out of the C train station on my way home and there, to my surprise, was Hakeem Jeffries, standing by a small folding card table. “Congress on your corner” read a banner. The image has stuck with me since that evening in 2014—not simply because it was canny retail politics, but because Jeffries was basically alone at the Brooklyn intersection, smiling and fielding any and all comments from constituents who included residents of desperately poor housing projects and of fabulously expensive brownstones. That moment is a pretty good metaphor for his rapid rise from New York state assemblyman to, as of Wednesday, the House Democratic minority leader and the successor to the legendary Nancy Pelosi.

Jeffries has long been a fascinating, somewhat contradictory mix of down-to-earth, crafty, independent, and unifying. But he’ll have immense shoes to fill. Pelosi, who served 20 years at the helm of the House Democratic caucus, was extraordinarily effective in bending House Democrats to her will by knowing when to reward and when to punish members. Does Jeffries have the ability to push similar buttons? 

There are plenty of talented, ambitious Democratic House members. But Jeffries is the one who has emerged to succeed Pelosi because he checks so many boxes at once. He’s an expert in the arcane congressional rules needed to pass or kill legislation. He’s able to translate complex concepts into language digestible by the general public—and an equally adept listener. He is 52 years old and Black at a time when his party’s leadership needs to become younger and less white. And Jeffries, during his 10 years in the House, has handled a series of increasingly high-profile assignments deftly, including serving as one of managers of the (first) impeachment case against President Donald Trump. There’s also the grubby reality that Jeffries, a charismatic presence particularly in small groups, should be a potent campaign fundraiser as Democrats seek to regain the majority in 2024. “He’ll do very well with the Democratic donor crowd—and for that matter, the Republican crowd too, at least personally,” says Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a powerful business group. “I can’t speak to those characters from California, but I actually think he’ll do better than Nancy Pelosi, by a long shot, with New York donors.”

“I’ve spent my entire adult life around the donor class,” a Washington Democratic operative says, “and they’re going to love him.”

Colleagues point to his role in crafting and passing a federal criminal justice reform bill in 2018, where Jeffries helped bridge gaps between the left and right when explaining why he’ll make an effective leader. “In the end, what separates him is the thing that all legislative leaders need, which is a combination of people who love you and people who fear you,” a top aide to one of the more liberal Democratic House members says. “In any snapshot of the 435, there are only a handful who can hold both of those things. And Hakeem will go to the mattresses for somebody when they really need it, even if he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of warmth in his heart for that person.” All of which is why, in a famously fractious body, Jeffries was elected minority leader by unanimous acclamation.

Which isn’t the same as universal love, however. The Democrats’ left wing has had its problems with Jeffries. Four years ago he elbowed past Barbara Lee, who was both more progressive and more senior, to win the chairmanship of the House Democratic Caucus. Last year Jeffries and Alabama congresswoman Terri Sewell formed the Team Blue PAC to help moderate incumbents beat back leftist primary challengers. “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. In case anyone missed the point, Jeffries told The Atlantic, “There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.” 

Republicans will certainly attack him, substituting racism for the sexism deployed against Pelosi. But they will have a hard time caricaturing Jeffries as a far-left radical lib. He was raised in Crown Heights, and knows well the history of racial tension in the neighborhood—an uncle, Leonard Jeffries, is a controversial former Afrocentrist professor. But Hakeem Jeffries, the son of a middle-class social worker and a substance abuse counselor, grew up to become a progressive institutionalist, someone who would try to change the system from the inside. He attended city public schools and the state university at Binghamton, then graduate school at Georgetown and law school at NYU, before being hired by one of the city’s most prominent white-shoe firms, with clients including Viacom/CBS. He ran for office for the first time (and lost) in 2000.

Possibly the most remarkable thing about Jeffries is that he came up through Brooklyn politics and survived six years in Albany as a state assemblyman without even the hint of a corruption scandal. “Hakeem is a throwback,” says Steve Cohen, an attorney and a New York Democratic insider who has worked with Jeffries for many years in a variety of roles, including as senior adviser to Andrew Cuomo during the former governor’s first term. “He’s interested in consensus and the public good, not in what’s best for his career, and he understands that success in the public arena depends on work in the backroom.” Cohen points to the subtle part Assemblyman Jeffries played in wrangling reluctant Democratic state legislators to vote for the 2011 legalization of same-sex marriage in New York. Jeffries has sharpened those inside-game skills in Washington: When New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand was pushing to reform military sexual assault protections, her office turned to Jeffries and his staff for crucial insight on how to best assemble support in the House. 

The congressman has credibly quoted the Notorious B.I.G. on the House floor during an impeachment trial, but he can seem ideologically closer to his elders than to Democrats of the new generation like Summer Lee and Ayanna Pressley. In last year’s New York City mayoral race, however, Jeffries sided with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in endorsing Maya Wiley, who was to the left of Eric Adams, the eventual winner. And way back in 2008, at a time in the Democratic presidential primary when it was still a bold move, Jeffries backed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Consensus-building is Jeffries’s dominant mode, though, so in the past two weeks he made sure to reach out to all of his fellow House Dems, including AOC, for private conversations that Jeffries would only describe as “positive.” He is certainly being careful not to newly antagonize anyone. When I asked him if President Joe Biden’s victory and the recent midterm results represented rejections of the left and right, Jeffries pointedly answered only one part of the equation: “The elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022 represent a clear repudiation of Trumpism and political extremism on the right.”

Jeffries can be blunt and funny when speaking off-the-record, but when talking with most reporters he is strikingly cautious and utterly disciplined. “I have no idea what that means, to be an establishment figure,” Jeffries told me serenely the day before he was officially selected to be Pelosi’s replacement. “Other than that, I’ve had the honor to represent the people of central Brooklyn for six years in the New York State Assembly, and for 10 years in the United States Congress. If that makes me establishment, so be it. But it’s a result of having earned the support of the people of central Brooklyn—working-class communities of color that predominate in central Brooklyn and in the southern part of Brooklyn that I’m privileged to represent.” Never mind that he omitted the gentrified parts of the district. The next time Jeffries is back on any of those street corners he is sure to draw a larger crowd.

Margot Robbie Is Nobody’s Barbie: The Babylon Star on Navigating Hollywood

Inside Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s Gilded Florida Paradise—Far From Donald Trump or 2024

Princess Diana’s Secret Biographer on The Crown, Prince Harry’s Tell-All, and Meghan Markle’s Oprah Interview

The Crown’s Controversial “Tampongate” Recreation vs. the Real-Life Phone Call

Chris Hemsworth Changed His Life After an Ominous Health Warning

Mark Zuckerberg’s Big Bet on the Metaverse Is Backfiring

Report: Trump Has Told Republicans to Endorse Him “ASAP” or Suffer the Consequences

Twitter Is Dying, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself

From the Archive: Buzz M for Murder (2017)

Shop Iconic VF Tote Bags, Notebooks, and More at the Vanity Fair Shop

Hakeem Jeffries’s Test of a Lifetime: Filling Nancy Pelosi’s Shoes | Vanity Fair

Metal Tall Flower Stand © 2022 Condé Nast. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement and Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement and Your California Privacy Rights. Vanity Fair may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. Ad Choices