Hakeem Jefferies Becomes First Black Party Leader in US Congress

Never before has a black politician been named a party leader in the United States of America’s Congress. Never before New York’s Hakeem Jefferies rewrote history after he was unanimously voted by Democrats in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. This is historic!

52-year-old Jeffries replaces California Representative and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as head of the Democratic caucus. She was the first woman in US history to hold the role.

Described as a progressive leader, Jeffries has always emphasised his commitment to issues like racial justice, gun violence, and reproductive rights. He has worked across the aisle to champion criminal justice reform and protect healthcare from “right-wing attacks”. 

Hakeem Jeffries represents the diverse Eighth Congressional District of New York, an area that encompasses large parts of Brooklyn and a section of Queens. Serving his fifth term in the United States Congress, Rep. Jeffries is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and House Budget Committee.

Jeffries is Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, having been elected to that position by his colleagues in November 2018. In that capacity, he is the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. He is also the former Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus and previously co-chaired the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee where he helped develop the For The People Agenda.

In Congress, Rep. Jeffries is a tireless advocate for social and economic justice. He has worked hard to help residents recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, reform our criminal justice system, improve the economy for everyday Americans and protect healthcare from right-wing attacks.

Since President Biden took office in January 2021, Rep. Jeffries has been instrumental in the House Democratic efforts to put people over politics by lowering costs, creating better-paying jobs, and fighting for safer communities. Over the past two years, Democrats have passed the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Jeffries was able to secure $21.9 million for projects in Brooklyn to provide food for the hungry, fund overdue improvements to medical centres, support organizations working to uplift our neighbourhoods, deepen our cultural understanding, and more through the 2022 Community Project Funding process.

During the 117th Congress, Rep. Jeffries was one of the most effective legislators, passing multiple bills through the House of Representatives and into law with substantial bipartisan and stakeholder support.  These measures touched on diverse subject matters and were drafted with the intention of making meaningful improvements to our federal laws and programs.  Such bills included measures to ensure veterans and their families have access to benefits information

In January 2020, Rep. Jeffries was selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve as one of seven House Impeachment Managers in the Senate trial of President Donald Trump, becoming the first African American man to serve in that role.  During the nearly three-week trial, Congressman Jeffries argued that President Trump should be removed from office for abusing his power by pressuring a foreign government, Ukraine, to target an American citizen as part of a corrupt scheme to interfere in the 2020 election.  The House Impeachment Managers established with a mountain of evidence that crimes against the Constitution were committed. Nevertheless, the Senate failed to remove the President without hearing from a single witness during the trial.

On March 9, 2021, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1280, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” for the second time through the House. During both pushes, Rep. Jeffries helped lead the charge with respect to the passage of this historic police reform bill, which included legislation authored by the Congressman to criminalize the chokehold and other inherently dangerous tactics such as a knee to the neck.  Rep. Jeffries remains dedicated to working with his colleagues to make transformational police reform a reality and breathe life into the principle of liberty and justice for all.

Jeffries played a major role in shaping the Congressional response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has fought hard to assist state and local governments whose budgets have been devastated by the virus, pushed for an extension of the emergency unemployment benefit, and supported efforts to keep everyday Americans in their homes.

Prior to his election to Congress, Jeffries served for six years in the New York State Assembly. In that capacity, he authored laws to protect the civil liberties of law-abiding New Yorkers during police encounters, encourage the transformation of vacant luxury condominiums into affordable homes for working families and improve the quality of justice in the civil court system.

In 2010, Rep. Jeffries successfully led the first meaningful legislative reform of the NYPD’s aggressive and controversial stop-and-frisk program. His legislation prohibits the NYPD from maintaining an electronic database with the personal information of individuals who were stopped, questioned, and frisked during a police encounter but not charged with a crime or violation.

Jeffries also sponsored and championed ground-breaking civil rights legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York State in 2010. This archaic practice of counting incarcerated individuals at the location of their imprisonment, rather than their homes, undermined the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote. After the passage of Jeffries’ legislation, New York became the second state to count incarcerated individuals in their home districts in census calculations.

Congressman Jeffries obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he graduated with honours for outstanding academic achievement. He then received his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. Thereafter, Rep. Jeffries attended New York University School of Law, where he graduated magna cum laude and served on Law Review.

After completing law school, Rep. Jeffries clerked for the Honorable Harold Baer Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. He then practiced law for several years at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, an internationally renowned law firm, and served as counsel in the litigation department of Viacom Inc. and CBS. He also worked as of-counsel at Godosky & Gentile, a well-regarded litigation firm in New York City.

Jeffries was born in Brooklyn Hospital, raised in Crown Heights, and is a product of New York City’s public school system, having graduated from Midwood High School. He lives in Prospect Heights with his family.

Jefferies has been praised as a skilled consensus-builder, effective legislator, and experienced leader, well-equipped to deliver further results for the people during the 118th Congress and retake the majority in 2024.


Joseph Omoniyi