The Complicated Relationship Between Kevin McCarthy and Hakeem Jeffries

It’s a new era for leadership in the House of Representatives, but the problems will be the same—and maybe worse.

On the right, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is primed—perhaps—to step up to the speaker role. On the left, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is virtually guaranteed to become the minority leader for House Democrats.

The move would make two 50-year-old men, both of whom have long been rumored to be in senior positions, the heads of their respective sides in the House chamber.

Just don’t expect them to be friendly about it.

In Congress’s previous life, new leadership might have meant a fresh start. McCarthy and outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have never been on good terms from afar — even when they hail from the same state and spent years leading their respective caucuses at the same time. The January 6 attack on the Capitol further strained their already strained relationship.

McCarthy did not attend Pelosi’s long-awaited speech when she finally announced that she would not seek a leadership role again. Several other Republicans have emerged, including Steve Scales (R-LA), the No. 2 House GOP leader. McCarthy complained that he had been busy and had no warning that her speech would be such an event.

In other words, it was Pelosi’s fault that he didn’t show up — not his.

Jefferies and McCarthy do not have the same bitter history. But that doesn’t mean they’re on perfect terms: Jeffries has vocally criticized McCarthy’s leadership in the past as divisions between Democrats and Republicans in Congress deepened.

As a senior GOP aide put it, the Democrats’ ability to work with McCarthy—and McCarthy’s interest in working with them—may have gone.

The level of disdain between McCarthy and any Democrat is unlike anything I have ever seen. They must have had a somewhat working relationship but it seems no Democrat wants to be in the same room as McCarthy, and McCarthy doesn’t want to be in the same room as any Democrat.

For the benefit of both parties, the aide continued, “that dynamic has to change.”

Given the margins of the next Congress, there will likely be some semblance of the required working relationship between McCarthy and Jefferies. McCarthy would oversee such a minuscule majority—with such a boisterous group of alt-right members—that bills such as keeping government running, which would also have to pass the Democratic Senate and be signed by a Democratic president, would almost certainly require the partnership of Bipartisan at home.

Jeffries said on CNN earlier this week that he hasn’t spoken to McCarthy recently. He noted that he has a “warmer” relationship with Scales, whom the Republican convention recently nominated as the new Majority Leader.

But Jeffries did not rule out working with McCarthy and the Republicans entirely.

“I look forward to working when and where possible…with the entire House Republican convention and leadership team to find common ground to get things done for Americans every day to make progress,” Jeffries said before issuing a word of caution.

But of course we will strongly and strongly oppose any attempts at republican extremism and any republican extremism. It is my hope that the Republican leadership will learn the lessons of the rejection of extremism by the American people across the land and not double and triple them in the next Congress.”

Jeffries, who served four years as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has worked with Republicans on the committee, including on policy issues such as sentencing reform, copyright reform, and the First Step Act — a criminal justice reform package that passed while Republicans held the House in 2018. Republicans have applauded his work on bipartisan legislation.

These ties could give Jeffreys some latitude with the Republicans under McCarthy’s leadership.

Then again, McCarthy’s role is still more up in the air than Jeffries’.

Asked on CNN if he thought McCarthy was suitable for the speaker role, Jefferies said it was not his decision. But he was quick to point out that McCarthy “seems to be struggling to get to number 218”.

“Let’s see what happens on January 3,” he added.

McCarthy is already struggling to retain the support he needs to be fully elected president on January 3. Five Republicans in the House of Representatives. Matt Gaetz (FL), Bob Goode (VA), Andy Biggs (AZ), Matt Rosendale (MT) and Ralph Norman (SC) – all have indicated they intend to vote “no” on McCarthy’s spokespeople.

McCarthy in recent days seems to be ramping up his promises of what he’ll do as speaker: remove Democratic members from committees, hold border congressional hearings, and impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorcas — all red meat for conservatives.

Of course, it’s bound to set the tone for McCarthy’s relationship with the Democrats at the start of Congress, too.

It’s hard to guess what Jeffries and McCarthy’s eventual relationship would look like, Doug Hay, former lieutenant of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and founder of Douglas Media, told The Daily Beast.

While Jeffries has served the Democrats’ No. 5 for two terms now, he’s new to the lead. But as to whether the new leadership could help quell the toxicity that has gripped the House in recent years, Hay had doubts.

Our political discourse is toxic and does not seem to be changing anytime soon. Hay said the incentive structure – financially and in the media – continues to reward extremists.

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