It’s been an intense but productive adjustment to the House for the New York City congressman.
Remember ninth grade? You had to navigate an unfamiliar campus, find your locker, join a few clubs and make nice with the upperclassmen.
Well, that’s a reasonable facsimile of what the first month of 2013 was like for 42-year-old Hakeem Jeffries, a newly sworn in freshman member of the House of Representatives, representing New York City’s 8th Congressional District.
And he’s hardly wet behind the ears, having left the seat he occupied in the New York State Assembly after a six-year stint. He is one of the youngest members of the Congressional Black Caucus and envisions himself as part of a new generation of young, black leadership on Capitol Hill.
Jeffries describes settling in to Congress as an “intense” but gratifying experience. He’s been appointed to the House Budget and Judiciary committees, where he says he’s already dug in on the issues of job growth, immigration, gun violence and voting rights.
The last time we spoke to Jeffries, who is married with two children, he was in the middle of an exceptionally smooth race for the House seat. Today, we’ve got him on the record on several hot button issues before the Congress and his approach to his first term.
Loop 21: How are you adjusting to life in Congress?
Hakeem Jeffries: It’s been intense, but it’s an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to serve the people of Brooklyn and Queens. I’m hopeful that [Democrats and Republicans] can put partisan politics aside and get back to [enacting] policies to benefit our constituents back home.
You used the word “intense.” How exactly has it been intense?
The volume of issues that we have to confront on any given day are significant — both in terms of their importance and their often pressing nature. It would be robust enough to have to deal with the issue of comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway for citizenship. Immigration reform is a highly complex issue with many different parts that must be synchronized in order to get it right.
Who has been the most helpful to you on Capitol Hill?
The chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, Marcia Fudge, has been tremendous in helping new, freshman African American members of Congress transition. Long standing members of this institution, such as the Honorable Charles Rangel and John Conyers, have also been extremely helpful with their sage advice, guidance and wisdom.
You are one of the youngest members of the CBC. Do you see yourself as part of a new generation of national black leadership in Washington?
From a generational standpoint, it’s clear to all of the members of the freshman class that we stand on the shoulders of giants who are both currently in the institution and who have served in the Congress in years past. The CBC has a tremendous legacy of accomplishment and advocacy. I look forward to doing as much as I can to continue to advance the CBC's mission going forward.
You’ve already got your committee assignments – budget and judiciary. How many of the hot button issues are going to fall under your purview?
I’ve been asked to confront immigration reform, gun violence, the debt ceiling, Superstorm Sandy relief, a possible government shutdown and automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, all basically at the same time.
Is there anything on the judiciary committee that you are advocating?
I represent a very diverse constituency, including immigrant communities from the Caribbean, South Asia, Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants, as well as Latinos. So immigration reform is very important to many of the people I serve, and it will be an
Gun violence has definitely become a hot button issue in recent months. That’s certainly on your radar, right?
There are many neighborhoods that I represent, predominantlyAfrican American parts of the district, such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York and Coney Island, that for years have been grappling with an out of control gun violence problem that’s robbing us of our children. People who elected me expect that Congress will come together to address this issue and put in place common-sense solutions to minimize gun violence in inner-city neighborhoods all across the country.
You just spoke about the diversity of your district. What are the biggest concerns for constituents in your district?
The residents of the 8th Congressional District are extremely supportive of President Obama and expect their representatives to stand up for the policies that he has put forth related to the economy, gun violence, immigration reform and investment in our future. They understand that this president has often been unfairly attacked and want to make sure that there are people in Washington who have his back, in a real and meaningful way.
Do you think President Obama is on target with his plans for education?
The president had a very active agenda related to education reform in his first term. As a member of the New York State Legislature, I actually co-sponsored legislation that enacted reforms designed to enable us to secure approximately $700 million in education funding from the federal government through the Race To The Top competition. I’m encouraged that the president has indicated his desire to improve and incentivize educational performance in the areas of science, technology and mathematics. Those are the jobs that will be created and available for the next generation.
What do you like best and least about working in Washington?
The ability to be in an institution with a real opportunity to help people back home is tremendous. That’s the best thing about this job. I’ve got no complaints right now, but if you check back in with me in a few weeks, I’m sure I’ll have a different answer.