News & Politics

5 Things to Know About Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democrats’ New Leader

The first Black lawmaker to lead either party on Capitol Hill once roomed with a future DC mayor.

Photograph by Paul Morigi/Flickr.

New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries will become the top Democrat in the House of Representatives—and the first Black lawmaker to lead either party on Capitol Hill—when the new Congress is sworn in next year. Jeffries’s unanimous election by his fellow Democratic lawmakers comes less than two weeks after the current Speaker of the House, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi, said she would not seek another leadership term. Pelosi’s announcement opened the door for Jeffries, currently the House Democratic Caucus chair. “It’s a solemn responsibility that we are all inheriting,” Jeffries said prior to the vote, according to the AP. “And the best thing that we can do as a result of the seriousness and solemnity of the moment is lean in hard and do the best damn job that we can for the people.” Here are five things to know:

New era: The 52-year-old lawyer will become the first leader of the House Democrats to be born after the end of World War II. His elevation is part of a generational shift for the party within Congress, as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn, both octogenarians, are being respectively replaced by Katherine Clark, 59, and Pete Aguilar, 43.

New York state of mind: Jeffries was born in Brooklyn and has lived in New York City for most of his life. According to a 2015 OZY story, his mother was a social worker and his father was a substance abuse counselor. In 2012, Jeffries was elected to represent New York’s 8th Congressional district—a slice of the Big Apple that includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn. “When I get to Washington on January 3rd for the swearing in,” Jeffries said on the evening of his election, according to DNAinfo, “I’ll be able to go onto the floor of Congress and utter the words ‘Brooklyn is in the House.’”

Fenty roommate: One of the few times Jeffries lived outside of New York on a full time basis happened in the early 1990s, when he was studying for a master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University. During his second year of studies, he roomed with future DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. “We’re still in touch,” he told one of Georgetown’s alumni publications in 2013. “He left, I think, a very positive legacy that will only be appreciated more as time passes.”

Super Bowl controversy cameo: After graduating from New York University School of Law in 1997, Jeffries went on to work for Viacom, the one-time parent company of the CBS network. As part of his legal work for Viacom, according to Crain’s New York Business, he represented CBS in a civil lawsuit related to the malfunction of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe that occurred during her 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show performance with Justin Timberlake.

A Biggie fan: In 2017, Jeffries marked the 20th anniversary of the The Notorious B.I.G.’s death by honoring the Brooklyn-born rap star on the House floor, calling the artist “the classic embodiment of the American dream” and rapping lyrics from the hit single “Juicy”: “It was all a dream/ I used to read Word Up magazine/ Salt’n’Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine/ Hangin’ pictures on my wall/ Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.” Jeffries also referenced Biggie’s lyrics during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, punctuating a speech accusing Trump of soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election and corrupting American democracy with “and if you don’t know, now you know.”

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.