How a secret meeting put Hakeem Jeffries on track to replace Pelosi

Jeffries, 52, was concerned enough to offer to fly to South Carolina to seek advice from 82-year-old Clyburn. The young lawmaker was kind enough to make sure his eldest in the Congressional Black Caucus was aware of Schiff’s silent campaign – and to warn Clyburn even more kindly of the risk of splitting the votes between them and paving the way for the ambitious Californian .

Jeffries need not be alarmed.

“There is nothing I would ever do to hinder the progress of our promising young Democrats and I see him as a promising young Democrat,” Clyburn said in an interview about Jeffries. “He knows, I didn’t have to tell him, but I did.”

When asked if he would be willing to take on a leadership role, Clyburn said he was “willing to do anything the caucus thinks is to their advantage,” noting that Jeffries “told me referred to as a mentor”.

South Carolina’s assurances — his most pronounced yet and downright direct in the diplomatic language of leadership races — are likely to prove the linchpin of Jeffries’ all-but-certain campaign.

Jeffries declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Schiff, Cate Hurley, said her “time and energy” was directed toward helping her colleagues “hold on to the Democratic majority in the House.”

Even before the savage attack on Pelosi’s husband last week, House Democrats gave him a measure of public respect. Jeffries and Schiff traveled extensively to defend their colleagues during the midterm campaign, but only mentioned their aspirations to other lawmakers in private meetings or subsequent phone calls. Even then, the two tried to be careful not to explicitly state that they’re running for his job or make firm requests for support.

This restraint, however, masks what so many House Democrats assume: that they will lose a majority on Tuesday and that the president will step down, creating the first vacancy at the top of the caucus since Pelosi took over from Richard Gephardt he two decades ago.

What was less clear to lawmakers, at least before Clyburn’s candid remarks, was whether he and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer would fight to succeed Pelosi.

Unlike Schiff, 62, and Jeffries, the two octogenarian leaders did not light up their colleagues’ cellphones with calls and texts alerting them to their interest in the two young lawmakers’ fashions – which a Democrat of the House called the “if-then” approach – “if there is an opening at the top of the caucus, then I would be interested.

Still, if Hoyer or Clyburn seek the top job, it could complicate things for Schiff and Jeffries.

The dynamic could prove particularly awkward if Clyburn shows up, raising the prospect of a generational battle at the CBC.

If the South Carolina paves the way for his young colleague, however, the 58-member bloc would rally behind Jeffries overwhelmingly, paving the way for him to become the first African American to become a congressional leader.

“He brings an old-school political savvy with an ability to relate to young people,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a fellow CBC member, said of Jeffries, while taking care to note that he was not going to officially declare his preference until after the election.

Privately, a number of Democratic lawmakers have said Jeffries is their best option as leader, as he is the rare competent member both outside and inside, qualified enough to carry the party’s message. on television, but also attentive to the needs and desires of his colleague.

Jeffries’ rise would be significant for a number of reasons. There is his history status, a descendant of slaves leading his party into a building partly built by slaves.

With the current trio of House Democrats in the 80s, the transition to a lawmaker who came of age in the 1980s, and who is used to quoting Biggie Smalls and even rapping at fundraisers, would also further fuel the questions about the future of a president about to turn 80.

Then there’s the matter of Pelosi leaving.

A historic figure herself, the president has maintained a remarkably unified once-fractious caucus over a 20-year span in which Republicans have gone through four leaders opposite her.

What she hasn’t been able to do, however, is groom a successor. That shortcoming is why some House Democrats believe Schiff suddenly began polling his colleagues earlier this year.

Pelosi’s lieutenants insist she’s not pushing her fellow Californian to take on Jeffries, but she’s tried to find him a perch before. She lobbied California Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint Schiff’s state attorney general last year – and when the governor overtook him, Pelosi left Newsom a message expressing her disappointment in no uncertain terms.

For Democratic activists and donors listening to MSNBC, Schiff is perhaps the second-best-known House Democrat and, after helping lead two impeachment trials against Donald Trump, Pelosi’s de facto deputy.

But a cable TV profile doesn’t make a leader, at least not in the relationship-oriented politics of congressional elections.

Schiff helped himself by donating to his colleagues, raising or donating a total of $14 million to House candidates this election. But he is now catching up with Jeffries, who has built up support since being elected to the leadership following the 2018 election.

“He’s harvesting seeds that Adam is planting,” said Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, whose own relationship with Jeffries stems from that post-2018 leadership race.

Like Phillips, Rep. Haley Stevens of Michigan was also first elected in the 2018 Democratic wave, and when she met Jeffries over nachos in her suburban Detroit neighborhood last month, she told him immediately that she was on board.

Another longtime lawmaker couldn’t believe he had to inform Schiff of what should have been obvious. “The do he didn’t know I was for Hakeem tell you how out of touch he is,” this lawmaker said. “I’m part of Hakeem’s whip operation.”

To Schiff’s detriment, it’s not just that he’s catching up, it’s that he’s obviously catching up. More focused on improving his media profile than his colleagues’ culture during the Trump years — and seen in caucus as capable but aloof — his outreach has prompted some lawmakers to privately ridicule him for only sending them emails. Texted for the first time when he became interested in directing.

Privately, Schiff said he was confident that the 42-member delegation of California Democrats could put him in the running.

But this block is hardly unified around him. “If there were to be a change in leadership, I think Hakeem would be a strong, unifying leader,” said Rep. Ami Bera of California, who is eyeing the DCCC chair.

Another of Schiff’s California colleagues said Schiff should avoid the near certainty of losing a leadership race when lawmakers return to Washington after the midterms. “If he played his cards right, he’d be like, ‘I’m not going to do this, I need your help with the Senate,'” the lawmaker said.

With more than $21 million on hand in his House campaign account, money that could be funneled into a Senate bid, he could be formidable in California state television politics.

This is, however, assuming there is a race at all.

If Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein were to vacate the seat before her term expires in 2025, Newsom said he would appoint a black woman as senator.

That same attention to the Democratic coalition is what could ultimately pose the greatest challenge to the ambitions of the House of Schiff.

It’s not just the symbolism of banging on a white man rather than elevating the first black leader to succeed the first female speaker. It’s that Jeffries is set to ride with a beloved pair of MPs, Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California, who together reflect their party makeup — a black man, a white woman, and a Latino.

Few Democrats better grasp the power of party diversity than Clyburn, the man whose eleventh-hour endorsement helped revive President Biden’s campaign in the first state primary with a large share of black voters.

The caucus’ commitment to various leaders is “what this country is about,” he said.

And, he added, it “bodes well for Hakeem.”

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