With Nancy Pelosi finally passing the torch, Brooklyn’s Hakeem Jeffries is on his way to becoming the most senior Democratic member of the House, wielding more power than any minority leader in recent history thanks to the G.O.P.’s razor-thin margin of control. He is also, of course, the first new person to hold that title in Democratic leadership in almost 20 years.
Jeffries, 52, steps into the role having already made history as the first Black Democratic leader of the House. But the truth is, not that many people really know him. Even within the Washington fishbowl, he’s something of a mystery—a rare introvert in the Capitol who could care less about the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, the Sunday show circuit or the cocktail scene, or really even the glory.
How will Washington decipher the anti-showboat? How will he wield his newfound power, and can he lead the Democrats back into the majority where he could make history again as the first Black Speaker? I spoke to a member of Jeffries’ kitchen cabinet, Michael Hardaway, his former senior advisor and communications director for six years, to get some insight into how Jeffries might lead the caucus and who has his ear. Hardaway is now a crisis communications professional, publisher of his own insider Hardaway Wire newsletter, and a critical outside ally for Jeffries as steps into power. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.