Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but Norman Solomon says that affiliation for the man tapped Wednesday to take over as leader of House Democrats should not be taken at face value.
By Norman Solomon
Images of passing the torch can be stirring.
President John Kennedy reached heights of inaugural oratory when he declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”
Three decades later, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, a Newsweek headline proclaimed “THE TORCH PASSES.” The article underneath glorified “a film clip that made its way into a widely seen campaign ad: a beaming, 16-year-old Bill Clinton on a sun-drenched White House lawn, shaking the hand of his and his generation’s idol, John F. Kennedy.”
Weeks later, when Time magazine named Clinton “Man of the Year,” its cover story carried the headline “THE TORCH IS PASSED.”
The Clinton presidency went on to carry the torch for corporate-friendly measures. The NAFTA trade pact destroyed many well-paying union jobs; “welfare reform” harmed poor women and their families; a landmark crime law fueled mass incarceration; Wall Street deregulation led to the financial meltdown of 2007-2008.
Now, the top of the Democratic Party is passing torches on Capitol Hill. When Nancy Pelosi announced two weeks ago that she will no longer lead House Democrats, she said: “The hour has come for a new generation to lead.” But in what direction?
Pelosi quickly endorsed Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to replace her as leader. NBC News offered the common media frame: “Pelosi made history as the first female speaker of the House, while Jeffries, the current Democratic Caucus chairman, would become the first Black leader of a congressional caucus and highest-ranking Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill.” On Wednesday, House Democrats selected him.
You can count on much of the mass media to shower the 52-year-old Jeffries with accolades, largely supplied by fellow Democrats. But, overall, a closer look reveals a problematic record.
Early on, before becoming a New York state legislator, Jeffries worked for years as a corporate lawyer. In Congress — while he has taken a few progressive positions like cosponsoring Medicare for All and voting to cut 10 percent of the military budget — his emphasis has been in sync with the party establishment.
“I’m a Black progressive Democrat concerned with addressing racial and social and economic injustice with the fierce urgency of now,” Jeffries told The Atlantic in August 2021. But during the same interview, Jeffries added: “There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.” (Ironically, Jeffries was echoing the “fierce urgency of now” phrase from Martin Luther King Jr., who was a democratic socialist.)
Jeffries likes to jab leftward. In 2016, he called Bernie Sanders a “gun-loving socialist with zero foreign-policy experience.” A 2018 profile in The Economist—titled “High Hopes for Hakeem Jeffries” – concluded that he “is nearly as moderate as a safe-seat Democrat gets.” The article pointed out: “Though he supports the principle of universal healthcare coverage, he speaks of ‘the importance of market forces and getting things done in a responsible fashion.’ Quoting Ronald Reagan approvingly, he suggests this means promoting a flourishing private sector outside the ‘legitimate functions’ of government.”
Congressman Jeffries takes umbrage at negative press portrayals to such an extent that his office tries to quash critical assessments. When I wrote in a HuffPost piece in January 2019 that “Jeffries has been more attentive to serving corporate power than the interests of voters in his Brooklyn district,” the response was swift and angry.
Jeffries’s communications director and senior advisor at the time, Michael Hardaway, fired off emails to HuffPost, claiming that my characterization was “factually inaccurate and easily disproven.” Despite the escalating fulminations, the HuffPost editor explained that he saw “no reason to correct or update the piece.”
Jeffries has not been a sponsor of the Green New Deal (which Pelosi famously denigrated in 2019: “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”). He also has not cosponsored the Green New Deal for Cities Act.
During the latest election cycle, Jeffries joined forces with one of the most corporate and vitriolic anti-progressive Democrats in the House, Josh Gottheimer, to form Team Blue PAC. Its priority – to protect the party’s incumbents against Squad-like primary challengers – was summed up last winter in a Rolling Stone headline over an article about Jeffries’s initiative: “Top House Democrat Unveils Plan to Beat Back Progressive Rebellion.”
Last year, The American Prospect reported, Jeffries was conspicuously absent from efforts to support public housing in his home city. “When all [other] New York City House Democrats sent a letter to Pelosi urging her to protect all $80 billion for public housing in the BBB [Build Back Better bill], Jeffries was the only member not to sign that missive, especially surprising given that New York Dems are known to act as a bloc.”
Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the magazine noted, but that affiliation should not be taken at face value: “Jeffries is a mute member of the CPC, the largest caucus in the party, but has recently chosen to ally himself with its more conservative factions. And while the party’s moderate wing has moved left on everything from foreign policy to social welfare, Jeffries has not moved with it.”
In fact, Hakeem Jeffries is thoroughly corporate, As The Intercept reported four years ago, after he won a close race against Rep. Barbara Lee to become chair of the House Democratic Caucus, “Jeffries is heavily backed by big money and corporate PACs. Less than 2 percent of his fundraising comes from small donors, who contribute less than $200, according to Federal Election Commission records.”
While in his fourth term, “Jeffries was the leading congressional recipient of hedge fund money in 2020,” The American Prospect reported last year:
“He banked $1.1 million from the financial sector, real estate interests, and insurance industry in the 2019–2020 cycle. Everyone from JPMorgan Chase to Goldman Sachs to Blackstone contributed. Zimmer Partners, a hedge fund, is one of Jeffries’s top donors in 2021. From the outset, he has governed with those interests at heart. While Democrats were reconsidering their coziness with Wall Street, he broke ranks to vote with the financial services world, including on a high-profile measure literally written by Citigroup lobbyists in 2013 that killed the Dodd-Frank ‘swaps push-out’ rule, allowing banks to engage in risky trades backed by a potential taxpayer-funded bailout.”
Thirty years younger than the outgoing speaker, Jeffries is a fitting symbol of media eagerness to herald generational change for Democrats in Congress. But investigative journalist Alexander Sammon has provided an apt sum-up:
“Barely in his fifties, Jeffries is young numerically, but aligned with an older mode of Democratic politics, and has repeatedly distanced himself from the younger crop of Democrats that is almost categorically more progressive (and more popular). He’s made a reputation for himself as the party’s future by becoming a foremost representative of its past.”
When a torch passes, we might be glad to “meet the new boss.” But we should discard illusions. That way, hopefully, we don’t get fooled again.
Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death“ (2006) and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State” (2007).
This article is from Common Dreams.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
Uhhh… Rumors: Ms Pelosi’s scheming 4 her daughter’s ascent…
This Corpo-Dem instead?
We’re Torched folks!
There is no such thing as a left in the Democratic party, the establishment knows how to eliminate them, and an extreme left is stupid bumper sticker talk.
Neo-liberalism is killing the working middle class in the USA and in Europe, it is wiping out successful social democracies.
The Democrats got rid of Al Franken for nothing but they court Manchin and his kind. So, Jeffries is the right man for the job the corporate elite wants and will get.
No need to vote in a fake democracy.
The US is circling the drain and apparently, the only thing important to its leaders is rounding up enough cash to buy bottled water in Hell.
Black speaker? Martin would not be proud!
“This ain’t no disco. It ain’t no country club either.”
This is Washington, D.C., “Passing the Dagger,” along w/the Nation’s tattered, torn, tortured, torched Heart; and, ‘the beat goes on,’ “Hakeem Jeffries. I can’t get over it, He’s lovely.”
Imo, “The hour has come for a new generation to” JOIN the ICC, International Criminal Court; and, Serve-Up, for prosecution, the old generation, the Gerontocracy’s POTUS 42, 43, 44, 45, 46 & their Board of Executioners, to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, headquartered in the Peace Palace.
“The hour has come” to STOP sugar-coating and whitewashing the CONGRESS’ “flagrant dereliction of duty,” i.e., for the past umpteenth years, CONGRESS “passed” on indictments, prosecutions, incarcerations of its own “home grown” Evil Doers who committed War Crimes (TORTURE, etc.); &, Crimes Against Humanity, here & over there!!!
“The hour has come for” the new generation “to foster peace through justice, rather than through war and conflict.”
The hour has come for” the new generation to “Pass the old generation” up for prosecution. But. But. But. But. But, in what direction? “On the North Sea coast of the western Netherlands is The Hague.” They Got This!!!
“The hour has come for “the Party of Push’n Propaganda aka Jackasses,” to make progress in REMOVING the Biden-Harris duo, et al., by end of day, 12.31.22. At the f/least, declare, Joey “The Political Corpse” Biden is NOT in command of The Nuclear Codes; just like Joey’s NOT in command of the family’s car keys, it ain’t happen’n, right?!? TY.
“A Nation of Sheep Begets a Government of Wolves.”
To anyone outside the USA and its pathetic EU/5eyes “rules-based” vassals, nobody in the US ruling class can be called left or progressive in any way. How much likelihood does an ordinary citizen have to be represented in the Congress in a way that allows him or her to get what citizens in other “liberal democracies” regard as normal rights? Instead, these other countries follow the USA on the path of blaming others for their own failings (as we see now in the “Empire of Lies”) and regard any deviation from US-led further pushing into war at any cost as impossible.
Corporate Democrats are just Closet Republicans. Why bother?
I want to vote in 2024, but not for someone who kisses big business a**, kicks me closer to the homeless camp, keeps the war with Russia going, tries to start a war with China…. Are Donald Duck or Stormy Daniels my only choices?
Please waste time telling me Team Godzilla is worse than Team Mechagodzilla. I can use some laughs.
“Please waste time telling me Team Godzilla is worse than Team Mechagodzilla. I can use some laughs.”
Perhaps what you’re looking for is more options. Progressive third parties haven’t succeeded in providing viable ones for a long time now and show no signs of breaking that record against the duopoly monopoly any time soon, so how about a different strategy based upon the late Glen Ford’s observation that the Democratic establishment is the more effective evil rather than wasting your time trying to determine a preference between the two?
I haven’t voted for or otherwise supported a national establishment Democrat since 2002. Otherwise, third-party progressive when one was running, or since the Obamacare gift to corporations in 2010 a Republican if a national race appeared to be close enough to do as much damage to the Democratic establishment as possible until enough have been kicked out to leave room for something worthwhile to replace them in the resulting vacuum.
Progress using this strategy has been slow, but it finally bore some fruit in 2016 and that fruit still shows some staying power at the voter level which is better than has been the case for several decades of Democratic establishment national government.
No pain, no gain may be the only potentially viable route to success at the voting level – and had we paid more attention to the successes of the Tea Party strategy a dozen years ago we might have made a lot more progress in fixing the Democratic party by now.
I think the Dems dropped the torch long ago, which is what started the ongoing conflagration.
Everything I read here, I find encouraging. About the best we can hope for from the freak show that the Democratic Party has become.
Decent article, if the term “Corporate Democrat” was replaced with the more accurate “Deep State tool”.
Nothing new here. In American politics, money is the king (or queen) maker. Money that comes in vast amounts from the corporate sector. Facilitated by Citizens United, this practice has perverted, warped and distorted the American political establishment. As long as big money rules the house and senate, there will be no succour for average American. How much of the treasury has emptied due to the militaristic policies of hegemony? Got universal healthcare yet? Student loan forgiveness? A livable wage? No? This is the result of big money donors – not private citizens. Inequality continues …
What the heck does he mean by ‘moderate wing’? I did not know there was such a thing in the Democratic Party.
There is the is the far-right ‘party of Wall Street’ faction, led by the President from MasterCard? There are the CIA-Democrats and the Pentagon-Democrats who shift their duty assignments into the Congress. The Pro-War-Gressives are at best center-right, favoring an aggressive and violent, bomb-the-world-to-peace foreign policy with extremely weak calls for minor social reforms. On a show-down vote of Wall Street versus Workers, the Workers had little support within the Dems. Who the heck is ‘moderate’ in this Party of millionaires and billionaires?
He voted to deny workers on the railroad their democratic right to strike. Yet another Wall Street Democrat.
….. 1984 … (now+38) ….
I sure hope that we can find the cheap commie labor on Mars for the “..investors..”.
“Good evening, and welome to Mars. … Excuse me, I meant to say, Walmart..”
George Orwell, 1984 […think of the investor…]
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.
We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power
means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know
what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites.
The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never
had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they
had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise
where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power
with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship
in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object
of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to
I do sure hope that Hakeem plays saxophone too..
the younger crop of Democrats
That a man in his 50s is seen as young shows how ossified the late stage empire has become. Like Gorbachev taking over from Andopov or the chinese succession from Mao and Chou en Lai. Geriatrics everywhere terrified that the next generation may overturn it all. The end is near.
At this juncture in ‘our’ ongoing fairytale democracy, anyone who thinks a change in the leadership directorate of this fraudulent Corporate State will lead to anything better than “the same ol’ same ol'” robbing of peter to pay Paul, must either be an eternal optimist or a blind faith, repurposed ignoramus.
Thanks but no thanks!
“while the party’s moderate wing has moved left on everything from foreign policy to social welfare, Jeffries has not moved with it.”
Hard to take THAT on the face value. Votes on Ukraine (foreign policy) and sick leave for railroad workers (social welfare) suggest that this is FAR from everything, instead, move to the right seems evident. Of course, there are shades of gray, hues of red etc. so distinctions indisputably exist, but I would be curious what are the examples of this “move left”.
Yes, it’s complete nonsense. If anything the “moderate” Democrats have tacked even harder to the right, emboldened by the “opposition” offered by phony progressives that won’t even call for floor votes for things they campaign on, who unquestioning support massive trillion-dollar handouts to the financial industry during the pandemic, and who find it impossible to oppose funneling billions to Nazis in the middle of a NATO proxy war.
To deny sick leave to railroad workers – who interact with the public – after a pandemic, speaks volumes about how bankrupt and illegitimate capitalism is.
But to vote to fund Nazis in Ukraine is a new low.