Hakeem Jeffries, left, kneeling with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Mayor Bill DeBlasio to commemorate the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. (Photo: Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times)
A new Black "first" came along at the same moment that the Democratic Party showed itself to be a servant of the ruling classes. Hakeem Jeffries is a very willing tool of powerful people. There is no reason to celebrate his ascension to the House Minority Leader position.
“Israel today, Israel tomorrow, Israel forever.”
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
The Black Agenda Report team is proud to have coined the phrases “Black misleadership class” and “Black political class.” These words cannot be uttered and written too often because they name and shame the people who work alongside the neoliberal and imperialist order in the United States while also pretending to act on behalf of Black people, whose needs are antithetical to those of the oligarchy.
Congressional Black Caucus member Hakeem Jeffries is the Black politico of the moment and his rise is a cautionary tale which must be followed closely. Jeffries will be the new Minority Leader of the House of Representatives when the 118th Congress convenes in January 2023. He is the first Black person to head a legislative branch in the U.S. but those who are on the exalted list of firsts are often those who bear watching the most.
Jeffries was anointed with a puff piece in The New York Times, the ”paper of record,” that is to say one of those which closely aligns itself with ruling class interests. The Times tells us that during the 2019 impeachment hearings Jeffries quoted a Biggie Smalls lyric in his remarks. There is nothing wrong with a popular culture reference but it is hardly proof of solidarity with the masses of Black people. In fact, in this case it is proof of fakery, a slick effort to show false solidarity.
He uses the same stale routine when discussing the apartheid state of Israel. “Back home in New York City we consider Jerusalem the sixth borough,” and adding for good measure, “I know from a tough neighborhood. And Israel is in a tough neighborhood.” The Times of Israel put it simply, “Jeffries has been one the most pro-Israel Democrats in the House, speaking out against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and against conditioning US aid to Israel.”
Jeffries wouldn’t have been elected by his colleagues to the Minority Leader position if he hadn’t passed muster with Democratic Party leadership and the kleptocrats whom they serve. Jeffries is the force behind Team Blue PAC, an effort to ensure that progressive challengers are defeated by incumbents. He is a leading House recipient of hedge fund contributions, having received $1.1 million in the 2019 to 2020 election cycle.
Hakeem Jeffries became Minority Leader at the same time that one sector of the U.S. plutocracy demanded that the Democratic president break a strike. Railroad workers who were exalted as “essential workers” during the pandemic, were suddenly demonized because they rejected a contract brokered by the Biden administration which did not provide them with any paid sick days.
Eight unions accepted the contract, but the members of four others rejected it and 110,000 freight rail workers faced the possibility of being locked out by management or going on strike. The Biden administration could have pressured the railroads to go back to the bargaining table and come up with a contract workers would accept. Instead, congress went right along with Biden and held a phony and unnecessary vote which prevented a strike from taking place.
Only eight members of the House of Representatives voted against the chicanery and Jeffries was not among them. The white house claimed that a strike would wreak havoc on the economy and cost $2 billion per day. This figure wasn’t questioned by congress or corporate media nor were any of the other arguments made by rail company management. The public were told that breaking the strike was the only course of action that could have protected the economy.
The ruse called for the House to vote first on the issue of preventing a strike and then for the Senate to vote on the issue of sick days. Of course, everyone knew that the Senate would vote no. The always phony progressives went along with the charade and blamed the Senate for voting down sick days, trying to give some legitimacy to the good cop/bad cop routine.
If Biden wanted the railroad workers to have sick days, there was a simple way to go about doing that. He could just sign an executive order. In 2015 Barack Obama signed such an order requiring all federal contractors to provide paid sick time but railroad workers were specifically excluded. All Biden has to do is sign a new one which requires that railroad workers be included in this rule. Of course he did say, “Nothing would fundamentally change,” should he be elected. He came by the betrayal somewhat honestly.
This political theater produces the likes of Hakeem Jeffries. There are phony villains and phony heroes, making congress akin to professional wrestling. Jeffries can call himself a progressive while also voting in 2018 to make the police a protected class. In that year he and most members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted to make assaulting a police officer a federal hate crime. The Blue Lives Matter bill was a shameful demonstration of how the Black political class serves its own cowardly ends while appearing to be defenders of their constituents.
Jeffries loves the theater as much as the rest of his colleagues. Taking a knee at all the appropriate photo opportunities while serving the interests of police or the Israeli state or railroad barons made him the perfect candidate for a leadership position.
Nancy Pelosi’s time was up. A new face was needed, a younger face, and yes a Black one from a big city. Who better to give the impression that change was afoot when it actually wasn’t. Jeffries will be ready the next time his services are needed to crush workers or do something else that the ruling class requires of him. The Black first is all too often a person who is co-opted or who is simply ambitious and knows how to play the game.
While the first person to get this or that job gets undeserved attention the railroad bosses and the rest of their cronies continue the cycle of austerity and immiseration of the people. Jeffries may take a knee at the right moment, but so far in 2022 police in this country killed 1,074 people with three more weeks left in the year to break an already sorry record. However, Hakeem Jeffries doesn’t speak to this issue. If he did, he wouldn’t be the new Minority Leader.
Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. You can support her work on Patreon and also find it on Twitter and on Telegram. She can be reached via email at margaret.kimberley(at)blackagendareport.com.