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Who Is Hakeem Jeffries? Here’s Everything We Know About the New U.S. House Democratic Leader

Today, Jeffries was formally sworn in, following his predecessor Nancy Pelosi.

As of this morning, NYC Representative Hakeem Jeffries has succeeded former speaker Nancy Pelosi as the new Democratic House Speaker. The 52-year-old congressman has always been a powerhouse within the party, but once again, he is breaking superb boundaries by becoming our nation’s first Black Speaker of the House.

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Jeffries’ entry will signal what CBS calls a “generational shift,” especially now that the Democrats will be relinquishing control of the lower chamber come January. Though the elections might signal a Republican majority to come, ultimately many are hopeful with this shift, since the Democrats have been needing stronger, younger leadership for a long time. And if Jeffries’ tenure is anything to reference, I believe they’re off to a good start, at the very least. Jeffries was one of the best advocates for better healthcare during NYC’s first few waves of COVID, and when a council was assembled to deal with the January 6th riots, Pelosi chose him specifically for a seat. If that wasn’t enough, Senator Chuck Schumer also spoke highly of the former congressman, whom he considers the “Brooklyn touch” that the House needs.

However, as with anything in the Democratic party, one would be wise to read between the lines and not take the surface level victories too seriously. My only fondness for Jeffries stems from the fact that my mom has a crush on him. The rest is, well … Predictably Democrat.

For one thing, Jeffries has a past lobbying with Pro-Israel groups …

which is … not great.

For another, Jeffries appeals predominantly to the generation of Democrats who are afraid of veering further left of center—which is ironic because, as it is, the current Democratic platforms seem to be just barely left of center. But Jeffries doesn’t just stand for this idea of the party, he actively endorses it, having gone on record chastising the “extreme left” for party infighting. I feel like this might be a good moment to point out—for anyone considering this take—that most of us on the “extreme left” don’t really identify with the Democrats beyond Not Being Conservative. While, yes, I think infighting among leftists is often counterproductive, academic, and pointless, infighting between leftists and Democrats is something to encourage, not denigrate. We all want progression, and we’d benefit from more collaboration, on both sides—Jeffries, as a person in power, will hopefully realize this during his tenure.

And hopefully the Democrats will stop trying to placate younger voters with a carefully-curated image of the party being “younger and Blacker,” a take which I initially found to be incredibly callous, though I later began to see its validity. This preceding generation of progressives really believes in the strength of optics, and I don’t know what more we can do to convince them that it shouldn’t be “optics,” it should be recognizing the strength of a diverse, educated, and morally sound body of individuals who can champion the voices of the people.

This might be a good time to mention that, before politics, Jeffries was a corporate lawyer. A corporate lawyer. And a centrist, by the standards of many.

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Ultimately, it would seem that Jeffries’ quick rise to power considering his (relatively) young age has much to do with his ability to play to the older crowd. He’s considered to have more in common with the old guys sitting around and watching it all happen with the buttons under their thumbs, than with the younger, more idealistic players who are actively trying to make things happen (yet, unfortunately, lack buttons). As a result, Jeffries has even gained the support of some Republicans. Some people think this is a good thing, since his next major challenge will be regaining seats in the House and re-establishing majority Democrat control. Others are just as disappointed as they’ve always been with the Democrats.

Again, I vote blue but I don’t paint myself in blue, so this all feels a bit removed from my own reality. I like to think the most important politicking happens in our local communities and how we enact change within them. But it’d be naive and self-indulgent to think that these elections will have no bearing on the nation as a whole, and so, even if I can’t say I back him 100%, I sincerely wish Jeffries a successful, productive tenure. More than that, I really, really hope he pulls through for the little guys: not the old crooks whose votes he needs, but the people who will actually be affected by policy changes.

(featured image: CNN)

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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).

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