Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) just made history as the first Black politician to lead either party in Congress. While Republicans floundered, Democrats unanimously voted for Rep. Jeffries in the Speaker’s race. But who exactly is the Brooklyn Congressman, and what explains his meteoric rise to power?
Brooklyn Born and Raised
Representative Hakeem Jeffries represents Brooklyn through and through. He was born at Brooklyn Hospital Center in 1970 to Laneda Jeffries, a social worker and Marland, a substance-abuse counselor. He grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, near his current district.
Jeffries Briefly Heads to DC
Jeffries first time and only time living full-time outside of New York was when he went to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. for his master’s degree in public policy. He graduated in 1994, but his adventures in academia were far from over.
Jeffries Keeps Racking up Degrees
Not satisfied with just one master’s degree, Jeffries tried his hand at law school. Jeffries received his law degree from NYU, one of the top law schools in the country. During his time at NYU, he was a member of the New York University Law Review and was heavily involved in the Black Allied Law Students Association. Jeffries graduated magna cum laude from NYU and delivered the student address at Convocation.
Jeffries Heads to Court
After finishing law school, Hakeem Jeffries went on to clerk for Judge Harold Baer Jr. on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Big Law Break
After finishing his clerkship, Hakeem Jeffries worked as a litigator at a fancy white-shoe law firm in New York: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Jeffries Runs For Office
While at Paul Weiss, Hakeem Jeffries challenged New York State Assemblyman Roger Green in the Democratic primary. He lost the race by 18 percentage points in 2000 and by a wider margin in 2002. “You lose, you learn from it, you build upon it, you keep moving forward, and at a certain point, opportunity presents itself in a way that will allow you to be successful,” Jeffries said in an interview about the race with NYU.
He Takes a Slight Detour To Media
After losing his two state assembly races, Hakeem Jeffries took an opportunity to work with CBS/ Viacom. He served for two years as an in-house litigator at the company, pursuing his passion for film, music, and television.
Third Time is The Charm!
In 2006, Hakeem Jeffries entered politics for a third time. He ran for Assemblymember Roger Green’s vacant seat and won!
Jeffries Passes Big Time Legislation
Hakeem Jeffries served three terms in the New York State Assembly. During his time in office, he co-sponsored a successful stop-and-frisk reform bill and a law legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State.
Jeffries Steps onto The National Stage
In 2012, Hakeem Jeffries ran for Congress in New York’s 8th District, which includes the predominantly Black and Caribbean-American neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvestant, Brownsville, and East New York. He won the race on his first try!
Jeffries Takes On His First Leadership Position
In January 2015, Representative Hakeem Jeffries was appointed Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus. Nancy Pelosi also appointed him as a member of the Steering and Policy Committee that same year.
The First Step Act
In 2018, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries led the Democratic efforts to pass the FIRST STEP Act in the House. The bi-partisan criminal justice reform bill retroactively provided relief for inmates sentenced under the crack cocaine sentencing disparity and their families. The original sentencing guidelines meant that people faced significantly longer sentences for using crack cocaine instead of powdered cocaine, which many saw as a racially-biased guideline. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law.
Jeffries Keeps Moving On Up!
In 2018, Representative Hakeem Jeffries was elected by his House colleagues to serve as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. That made him the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives.
Nancy Pelosi Passes The Torch
After leading the Democrats in Congress for the last two decades, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she was stepping down from leadership. In her speech, Pelosi opened the door for younger leaders like Jeffries (30 years her junior) to take her place. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I greatly respect,” Pelosi said.
House Democrats Rally Behind Jeffries
Days after Pelosi stepped down, House Democrats named Representative Hakeem Jeffries as their leader in a closed-door session. The vote wouldn’t be official until the next Congress met in January.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Makes History
On Tuesday, Democrats unanimously threw their support behind Representative Hakeem Jeffries for party leader. Jeffries will be the first Black Lawmaker to lead any party in Congress. He received more votes for Speaker than the Republican candidate, Kevin McCarthy, whose party currently controls Congress. Rep. Jeffries is the first nominee since 2007 to win all of the Democratic votes.
What’s Next For Rep. Hakeem Jeffries?
Representative Hakeem Jeffries is currently closer to being House Speaker vote-wise than Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. However, since Republicans are in power in the House, it’s unlikely that Jeffries will get the Speaker’s gavel. Still, it’ll be exciting to watch how this fresh face adapts to his new role as Democratic party leader!