Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Poised for Power? Possibly …

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Poised for Power? Possibly …

By Joshua Eferighe


Because power has a habit of sneaking up on you.

By Joshua Eferighe

Hakeem Sekou Jeffries is an American politician and attorney who has served as the U.S. representative for New York’s 8th Congressional District since 2013. He’s been chair of the House Democratic caucus, was the house manager in Trump’s first impeachment trial, and could very well be the next speaker of the House. Join him on The Carlos Watson Show as he discusses the ups and downs of life on the Hill. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

On the Insurrection

Carlos Watson: It’s crazy … but you guys have already had, it feels like a decade’s worth in the first 45 days alone.

Hakeem Jeffries: Yeah, it’s incredible. The pace was intense over the last four years, and then 2020 got more intense. And then I thought, you know what? 2021 has finally arrived. And six days in, we have an insurrection.

Watson: Right. Did you see it coming? Did you have a sense that that was going to happen either in the days leading up?

Jeffries: Some members had raised security concerns, and whenever there’s an event and a protest and a volatile situation, there are always some issues. So the one step that we took is that we had all … no staff worked that day with one exception, the person who’s always with me, but everybody else I said, stay home, because we knew there would be tension. But we didn’t expect that it would result in a violent attack on the Capitol.

Watson: Wow. And where were you when all that was going down?

Jeffries: I was actually on the House floor at the time. It was surreal. And the first moment where you realized something was happening is when I saw the speaker being pulled by her security team from the podium with great urgency. The sergeant-at-arms got up, interrupted the debate, halted it, said that protesters have breached the Capitol, they’re on the second floor, they’re heading toward the House Chamber, and secure the gas masks that are underneath your seats.

It was at that moment that I realized this was a real different situation than I’ve ever encountered in life, because I’ve seen a lot growing up in central Brooklyn, in the middle of the crack cocaine epidemic, never had I ever been asked to secure a gas mask. And that’s when things just began to become clear that we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Getting There, the Long Way

Watson: Congressman, how did you get into politics? Were you like Bill Clinton, someone where politics was always in your blood, and you were always thinking about it and committed to public service?

Jeffries: I was a student at Binghamton University and began to get involved in activism and in my final year served on the executive board of the Black Student Union as the political correspondent. I believe that was the title. It was the first race that I ever ran and won. I don’t remember the margin; I think it was close, it was a three-way race. And I was then on my way to graduate school to study public policy, thinking about the possibility of going to law school.

And in the spring of my senior year, I remember coming home. I had an off-campus apartment in downtown Binghamton, turned on the TV and LA was in flames. I’m trying to figure out why is L.A. is in flames. Then, of course, it was because the all-white jury had come back in the trial of four officers who had beaten brutally Rodney King. Four white officers. Acquitted them all.

Of course, that led to the LA uprising. And I remember thinking at that point in time, and in the next few days, that I want to go to law school and I want to practice law, and I want to use my law degree after I finished graduate school to try to advance the cause of racial and social justice.

After practicing for a few years, I decided to run for a seat in the New York State Assembly. I lost my first two races, but I learned that a knockdown is different than a knockout. And I was able to, thankfully with the encouragement of so many friends and family members and loved ones, get back up, keep moving forward. Won a seat in the New York State Assembly that third time. I’d run against a 20-year incumbent first two times. And then, the rest has been history.

Watson: Man, I love that story and I love the knockdown versus knockout. Go back in time and talk to that young fella, young Hakeem. What’s going to surprise him about politics?

Jeffries: There are issues where you think there will never be agreement. And that the left and the right see things differently, and we’re just going to have to fight and fight and fight to turn things around, to get it done. And that struggle may be endless. Sometimes you’ll realize that there actually is the emergence of, what I now refer to as a coalition of the unusual suspects who come together on an issue that shocks the conscience of the American people. And criminal justice reform has now become that issue.

Doug Collins, a conservative Republican from rural Georgia, and myself, a progressive Democrat from the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, come together on the First Step Act to strike a devastating blow against mass incarceration and address over-criminalization.

We get the bill somehow to the president’s desk, and Donald Trump of all people signs it into law, with the encouragement of his daughter, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Future

Watson: If at some point in the future you were blessed to get to become speaker, what would that look like? What would you want people to be able to say about the speakership of Hakeem Jeffries one day?

Jeffries: Listen, I’m fortunate enough to represent the people of the 8th Congressional District, and now to serve as the chairman. I don’t want to get out ahead of myself. That’s what my grandmother used to tell me and my younger brother, Hassan, “Never get ahead of yourself, boys.”

Do the job that’s in front of you, and the rest will take care of itself. So, I’ve got great respect for Speaker Pelosi, and to be honest, I nominated her twice, had the privilege of doing that. I’ve been able to learn a lot from her.

We’ll see what the future brings, but I just think that for as long as I’m able to serve, I want to serve with honor, integrity, authenticity, and be able to say at the end of my tenure that I was able to get something done and make life a little better, or hopefully, a lot better for the people that I’m privileged to represent.