Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the three-term lawmaker from New York and one of Democrats’ rising stars, is considering jumping in the race for Democratic Caucus chair, he told POLITICO Thursday.
Jeffries said the race is something he’s going to look at closely “in the next several days” but added an official announcement before members leave for recess next week is unlikely.
Story Continued Below
Instead, Jeffries told POLITICO he will probably head into the five-week August break “without committing to one thing or the other” in hopes of not distracting from the bigger task at hand — the midterms.
“I still believe that we absolutely need to keep our focus on taking back the House,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries’ entrance into the race wouldn’t be a total surprise.
Since Rep. Joe Crowley’s primary loss in late June scrambled the Democratic leadership dynamic, Jeffries has been mentioned frequently by his colleagues as a potential replacement for the current leader of the Democratic Caucus. And sources close to Jeffries told The New York Times he’s likely to run for the position.
But this is the first time Jeffries has publicly declared he’s interested in the job.
Jeffries and other members eyeing the open spot may feel pressure to state their intentions sooner rather than later after Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), current caucus vice chair, announced she’s running for the post earlier this week.
Both Sánchez and Jeffries are close to Crowley, but the current chairman is not planning to endorse in the race because he won’t, as an outgoing member of Congress, have a vote in the election.
As the No. 5 Democrat, Sánchez already has a formidable whip and fundraising operation setup. And by declaring her intentions now, Sánchez can openly campaign for the job among her colleagues over the recess, potentially giving her a leg up over other members interested in the leadership slot.
Still, if and when Jeffries does decide to run, he would be a formidable opponent to Sánchez.
Already in the lower rungs of leadership — he is one of three co-chairs of House Democrats’ messaging arm — Jeffries is someone his colleagues say is poised to quickly advance, even in a leadership hierarchy that has long been ruled by Nancy Pelosi and her two deputies.
Several Democrats said they were impressed by Jeffries’ recent push to get a bipartisan prison reform bill through the House despite opposition from some leading Democrats and key civil rights groups including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union. The bill ultimately passed the House in a 360-59 vote.
If Jeffries runs, it could divide support of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a fellow CBC member, has said publicly she’s considering running for caucus chair but hasn’t formally declared.
Other members who are said to be looking at the job include Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jeffries’ two co-leaders on the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), current chairman of the CBC, and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), top Democrat on the Intel Committee, are also mentioned as potential candidates.
Where Jeffries lands — even if he jumps in the caucus chair race — won’t be answered until after the midterms.
Multiple lawmakers have said privately they’d like to see him challenge Pelosi, who has led the caucus for nearly 16 years, for the top job.
Jeffries has ruled out the idea of taking on Pelosi. But Democrats close to him say they would push him to run for something higher ranking than caucus chair, the No. 4 leadership spot, in a post-Pelosi world.
Pelosi has already declared she will run for speaker if Democrats win back the House. But with simmering angst in the caucus for change after more than a decade with the same top three leaders, and two dozen Democratic candidates saying they won’t support her for leader, her job isn’t guaranteed.
Some members say they would like to see a leadership overhaul — including replacing House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — when Pelosi leaves.
For now, Jeffries said he’s content to tout House Democrats’ new campaign slogan – “For the People” — which he helped craft as co-chairman of the DPCC. Democratic leaders unveiled their new midterm strategy, which will focus on health care costs, infrastructure and GOP corruption, at a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
“We’ve got a great new closing argument that we need to carry out to the American people that really distinguishes what we’re about and what they’re about,” Jeffries said.