Some things have changed in the two weeks since Hakeem Jeffries learned – from listening to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech, sitting motionless with an intentional blank expression on his face for those who were watching – that she really was going to step aside. His phone is ringing more. He’s being stopped more in the hallways of the Capitol.
On a small table in his hideaway office in the Capitol, there’s a platter of scones and a bowl of fresh raspberries as refreshments for the many guests filing in, from “squad” member Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Thursday evening to the law enforcement officer representatives who came in on Friday morning.
Some things are the same. Jeffries is still carefully working out in advance what he wants to say at every public appearance, delivering those rehearsed comments deliberately enough that reporters’ automated transcription programs inserts extra periods they assume must be there to fill the spaces. He’s still the cautious operator who nixed calls from colleagues in a private post-midterms meeting to jump out ahead and challenge Pelosi.
The new leader of the Democrats in the House insists that he hasn’t had time to take it in, or even to reflect on making history as the first Black leader in Congress. What matters, he said, is getting his party back to the majority in 2024 – and likely then getting himself to be speaker.