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Brooklyn’s Hakeem Jeffries Becomes the House’s New Top Democrat

Issue 276

Meet the new boss, same as...

Theodore Hamm Dec 19, 2022

Hakeem Jeffries’ ascent to succeed Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democrats provoked a wave of media commentary about Brooklyn’s prominence on the national political stage. Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer now can share a park bench near Grand Army Plaza and plot strategy. 

It is not exactly clear how the masses of Brooklyn or the rest of New York City might benefit from the duo’s influence. But the high-rollers on Wall Street are no doubt thrilled to have two of their closest allies in power. 

Jeffries, a former corporate lawyer, has rarely fought for the issues that animate the Democrats’ activist base. Meanwhile, leading Wall Street players stridently oppose single-payer health care, champion their own versions of a Green New Deal, and bear overwhelming responsibility for the student debt crisis. 

Even though Democrats are the minority party in the House, progressives want Jeffries to push their issues. “We want to have hearings on Medicare for All [and] free public college,” Bay Area Congressman Ro Khanna recently told Axios

Nancy Pelosi, 82, tapped Hakeem Jeffries to be her successor after leading House Democrats since 2004 including stints as Speaker from 2006–2010 and 2018–2022.

Jeffries’ money trail nonetheless suggests that Wall Street will continue to have his ear. 

First elected to his Central Brooklyn/southwest Queens seat in 2012, Jeffries became the party’s Caucus Chair after the 2018 midterms. Rumors began to swirl that he would succeed Pelosi. After he raised between $1.1 million and $1.74 million in his first four campaigns, Jeffries’ coffers began to fill up for the 2020 cycle.

Although he did not face a serious challenger in either of his last two elections, Jeffries’ filings — as tracked by OpenSecrets.org — show that he hauled in over $4.1 million in 2020 and $5.8 million this year. (His 2022 opponent raised $20,000.) Pelosi averaged $24 million in the last two cycles, suggesting that Jeffries may need to hire more ­bookkeepers. 

In his last two campaigns, Jeffries collected roughly $850,000 from Wall Street hedge fund, private equity and real estate interests. These investors often make overlapping investments, as evidenced by Blackstone Group, a private equity firm that is also a giant landlord. Blackstone deposited nearly $33,000 in Jeffries’ 2022 campaign coffers. 

Jeffries’ intake from Wall Street currently pales in comparison to Schumer, whose close ties to the financial sector date back to the late 1970s. Because a Senate seat is a six-year cycle, the totals regularly exceed House campaigns. Jeffries, however, appears likely to catch up to Schumer in his next few House reelection bids. 

Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can now share a park bench near Grand Army Plaza and plot strategy.

In his 2022 campaign, Schumer collected $41.1 million, despite running against an unknown opponent. Over 10% of his total haul came from Wall Street interests. The Blackstone Group kicked in nearly $275,000. Schumer also tallied six-figure donations from tech companies (including Google and Microsoft) and the private health-care industry. 

In his most recent term, Schumer tacked left, sensing a groundswell of activist support for a potential challenge from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Senate majority leader’s outspoken support for the Biden administration’s student-loan reduction plan may make it seem like he is in sync with the activist base. Biden’s debt relief initiative, however, is a far cry from Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign proposal to fund free public college by taxing Wall Street stock, bonds and derivative trading. 

Unlike Schumer, Jeffries at least claims to support Medicare for All. Although in 2019 the now-minority leader signed on as a cosponsor of single-payer legislation, Beltway insiders do not view Jeffries as a “major champion.” As The Intercept recently reported, the Brooklyn power broker is also not particularly interested in the Green New Deal. In fact, there are no policies listed on Jeffries’ House website for “Energy and Environment.” Instead, the page instructs visitors seeking more details to email the party leader’s office. 

Among other advantages, being the head of the minority party in either chamber allows leaders to defer action until they become majority leader. For at least the next two years, Jeffries will thus try to steer activists’ demands into the future. It is up to the base to decide how to apply pressure. In the meantime, Jeffries will be amassing a war chest that will make it very difficult for him to be dislodged. 

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