United States Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-N.Y.) discussed how Democrats are handling pressing political issues with their majorities in both houses of Congress at the Institute of Politics Thursday.
Moderated by Arjun A. Akwei ’24 and Nia S. Warren ’24, the discussion explored Jeffries’ position on the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, police reform legislation, and voter suppression.
The forum followed a series of public disputes between progressive and moderate Democrats regarding the party’s proposed reconciliation package, which aims to expand the social safety net and tackle climate change.
When asked about how different sects of the Democratic party are handling their disparate viewpoints, Jeffries explained that there has been some “turbulence.”
“As we're working through these big issues, we have a narrow majority. So of course, there's going to be turbulence,” said Jeffries, who serves as chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “There was turbulence when FDR tried to get social security passed with those extraordinary numbers, so certainly there will be turbulence now.”
Despite the in-fighting occurring within the Democratic Party, Jeffries maintained that the party remains a “coalition.”
“We embrace the fact that there's a broad ideological diversity, as well as racial diversity, gender, sexual orientation, religious, life experiences, and region. I think that's what makes House Democrats the most authentic representative of the American people in the institution,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries, who formerly served as Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, also discussed police reform, sharing that his experiences raising his Black sons gave him a “sense of urgency” on the issue.
“Make sure you take identification with you because if you get stuck and you don't have identification, it could be problematic,” Jeffries said, referring to the warnings he gave to his children. “If the police get aggressive with you, don’t disrespect them. You can't fight that battle on the street.”
Despite deep divisions in the current political climate, Jeffries said he hopes recent progress on criminal justice reform, which he called “bipartisan in nature,” can lead to “common ground” on police reform in the near future.
Pointing to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, Jeffries also emphasized the “fragility” of U.S. democracy.
“Far too many people in its aftermath ran further away from democracy, and in part, doubled and tripled down on voter suppression in state after state across the country,” Jeffries said.
“The urgency of dealing with protecting our democracy and the right to vote, which is so central to the integrity of our government — one person one vote, regardless of race, regardless of zip code,” he added.
Democrats have proposed two voting rights bills, both of which have passed in the House. Jeffries said he hopes the Senate will “turn aggressively” toward passing the proposals.
“We're going to have to get these bills over the finish line one way or the other,” Jeffries said.
In spite of the challenges that congressional Democrats face, Jeffries said he remains confident in their ability to pass the party's agenda.
“We remain resolute that failure is not an option in any of these areas and certainly is not an option as it relates to our democracy,” Jeffries said.
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