Congressman Hakeem Jeffries to Dems: Stay Energized and on Message

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Congressman Hakeem Jeff ries, 8th CD, addresses community and national issues with local press

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY (8th CD), the Democratic Caucus Leader-Designate (putting him in line to be Speaker of the House), held a small press gathering for local media in his office at the Shirley A. Chisholm Office Building.

As leader of the Caucus, Congressman Jeffries made a point of setting an example by staying on message – a lesson he says the Republicans taught the Democrats in the 2016 election. “Keep the base energized and also move swing-voters in our direction” was the goal, and this involved the Caucus taking opportunities to take “principled” stands against Donald Trump’s agenda.

The first such opportunity came with Trump’s Muslim Ban. Seeing the level of resistance people were willing to put up, “It was a significant moment,” said Jeffries, “because it demonstrated to all of us the level of activism that was going to be necessary to push back immediately and aggressively against the direction that Donald Trump and his allies were going to try to take us in as a country.”

With the Republican attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act, the Dems had another opportunity to put into practice their new messaging strategy and to sharpen their communication skills. They realized they had to “deploy a messaging approach that would be different than the manner in which we traditionally communicated to the American people.” They saw that, “the only way for us to break through in this environment was for House Democrats to communicate with simplicity and repetition. We needed to speak in clear, compelling, yet simple terms to the American people and then repeat that message over and over and over again.”

And the message was that tens of millions would lose health care, increased co-pays for preexisting condition coverage, Jeffries said. “Period, full stop! Hit repeat, over and over and over again. The Reps were forced to pull the bill in March,” the repeal of the AFFORDABLE CARE ACT was later defeated in the Senate.

“We called the effort a GOP tax scam where 83% of the benefits went to the wealthiest 1% and repeated that message over and over and over again. We didn’t go into the details of the bill much beyond than to say it was going to result in an additional 1.5-2 trillion dollars’ worth of debt that our children and grandchildren would be forced to saddle, and they may try to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to pay for these massive tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, the wealthy and the well-off. Simple message repeated over and over and over again.”

The success of this strategy can be seen in the lack of Republican enthusiasm for their highly unpopular tax bill. They were last seen “running toward the Democratic message of lowering healthcare costs and protecting people with preexisting conditions.”

As we go to press, the congressman’s bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill has passed the Senate, will be voted on in the House and is expected to be signed by the president this week. The congressman said that the bill, “will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in creating opportunity for currently incarcerated individuals to successfully reenter society, transform themselves, save taxpayer dollars and dramatically reduce recidivism.” It will also correct mandatory minimums, expand “the safety valve mechanism for judges to depart from sentencing guidelines in the interest of justice, particularly as it relates to nonviolent drug offenders and provide retroactive relief to currently incarcerated individuals who were sentenced under unjust “crack cocaine” laws largely in the 80’s and 90’s.”

Regarding our mercurial president’s expected signature, Jeffries later said, “My hope is that we can get criminal justice reform over the finish line without him backtracking in the next 48 to 72 hours.”

Because NYCHA falls under HUD, Jeffries was asked about what can be done to help the agency handle the housing of a half-million peopl, at a time when many residents are distrustful of the de Blasio Administration after lead revelations, etc. The congressman acknowledged that there were misgivings in Washington that NYCHA was currently capable of handling the infusion of money necessary to correct the estimated $20 billion in capital funds needed. He said that only the federal government has those kinds of resources. In the Democratic infrastructure proposal, there is $70 billion for public housing across the country, and because NYCHA is the largest public housing development in the nation… …it’s widely anticipated that NYCHA will be the largest beneficiary.”

For Jeffries’ district, the affordable housing crisis remains the most important. “We need an all-hands-on-deck approach that will involve additional engagement at the federal level including by reforming the low-income-housing tax credit program in a way that incentivizes the creation of more affordable housing in high-cost cities like New York, as well as reviving the Section 202 senior housing program, because there are many seniors throughout the Eighth Congressional District and beyond who are struggling to afford to live in the communities that they helped to revive.” The infrastructure plan would also help the MTA with the money that agency needs for repairs and upgrading.

(Next week: Climate Change, Immigration, Religious Freedom and challenges of bringing together the new progressive and conservative Democrats taking the reins in January.)