A small press gathering was held by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY (8th CD), the Democratic Caucus Leader-Designate (putting him in line to be Speaker of the House), for local media in his office at the Shirley A. Chisholm Office Building. In Part 1 we had the congressman’s thoughts on Democratic strategy, criminal justice reform the Muslim ban and affordable housing. Here he speaks about climate change, and working with a broad spectrum that makes up the Democratic Caucus.
The reports are that by 2050, 50% of the mass in the oceans will be plastic and the climate will be radically different than what we now see. We asked Congressman Jeffries what plans the Democrats had in the face these two threats to the planet. He said that Leader Nancy Pelosi was already in conversations with “chairs of the relevant committees, including Science, Space and Technology as well as Energy and Commerce” to appoint a select committee that will analyze the problems and “propose legislative remedies that can subsequently be acted upon by House Democrats.”
Because these are issues that affect everyone, from Super Storm Sandy in the East, Hurricane Harvey in Texas to wildfires in California, Jeffries hopes bipartisan solutions could be found, “notwithstanding the significant opposition that exists from some powerful special interests in Washington anchored in the fossil fuel industry, we have to find a way to come together and confront climate change in a bipartisan way and a select committee is a good beginning for House Democrats.”
Regarding the Green New Deal that is being proposed, Jeffries said he did not know the particulars, but certainly agrees that there is a need to “go big” to address the problems of climate change, infrastructure and income inequality, and that there needs to be a “strategic approach to accomplishing concrete things in the legislative process.”
Some of that strategic approach is within the Caucus that he will lead. From progressives such as Antonio Delgado in upstate New York, to so called “Blue Dog Democrats” from conservative states who have to vote the issues as their constituents see them. “It’s a popular misconception that the most recent election represented the emergence of just one particular block of Democrats in the House of Representatives,” Jeffries said, “when the reality is the overwhelming majority of red to blue candidates who defeated Republicans in Trump-leaning districts are more centrist and moderate in their orientation or else they would not have been elected.”
Jeffries said that as chair of the House Democratic caucus, his most important task, to use a football analogy, is to “allow for a meaningful huddle to take place each and every week where Democrats across the ideological spectrum can come together, hash out issues, and then figure out what plays we’re going to execute on behalf of the American people.”
Immigration is a problem that’s been a thorn in Congress’ side for some time. Jeffries said he hopes that with the next term, Congress can work to fix the “broken immigration system starting with providing a pathway towards citizenship for the Dreamers.”
When asked about his stance on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the ability for private businesses to deny service because of their religious beliefs, (such as a baker not making a cake for a same-sex wedding), Jeffries said he had not studied it. however he did say that the right balance had to be struck between the “First Amendment protections anchored in both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause.” Meaning that there can be no state-sponsored religion, and religious values cannot be “infused into our public policy.” At the same time “there’s also a free exercise clause which is designed to make sure that government doesn’t inhibit the ability of religious people or non-religious people to engage in the free exercise connected to their religious and/or secular beliefs.”
Striking the balance here in Jefferies’ “big tent” Caucus will be one of the challenges he faces. His bottom line was, while as a congressman from the 8th CD he can speak for his constituents, however “as someone who will be serving as the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the new House, it will be irresponsible for me to jump out ahead of the caucus.” He said he has to allow for a “robust discussion” of the issue from the varying perspectives “on something that would be so meaningful from a legislative standpoint.”
And regarding President Trump, “Let Bob Muller be Bob Muller.” Let the investigation run its course and then make the assessment of next steps with our president.