(WASHINGTON) — Incoming House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York on Sunday played down the chances of his caucus working with Republicans to elect the chamber’s next speaker as the GOP has wrestled with unifying around their leader, Kevin McCarthy of California.
When pressed by ABC “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos on whether he would entertain an agreement with Republican centrists should McCarthy fail to clinch the speakership, given how narrow McCarthy’s majority will be in the next Congress, Jeffries demurred.
“Well, we have to organize on our side and be prepared to hit the ground running on Jan. 3,” Jeffries said, referencing the date that the next speaker will be elected. “They have to organize on their side, and we’ll see what happens.”
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a possibility. Right now, Democrats are preparing to get ourselves ready as we transition temporarily from the majority into the minority,” Jeffries added when Stephanopoulos asked if a speaker who was “willing to compromise” could advance Democrats’ goals. “I think the question right now is what other Republicans are going to do. From our standpoint, we know what our mission is.”
McCarthy, who served as House minority leader for the past four years, is still working to corral the necessary support for his bid to be speaker. A closed-door vote last month saw him clinch the support necessary to be the GOP nominee, but a notable minority of his conference’s members voted against him.
Of the 222 Republicans who will be in the majority next year, five have said they won’t vote for McCarthy to lead them.
“He seems to be having a difficult time at this moment getting to 218. But we’ll see what happens on Jan. 3,” Jeffries said on “This Week” of the number of votes McCarthy would need to win the speakership if the entire House was present.
House Democrats will oppose ‘rabbit hole’ of GOP investigations
Jeffries also lambasted what he said was extremism within the GOP, noting that Democrats had been able to find some bipartisan compromises with Republicans during the Trump administration but that similar agreements could be difficult if hardline voices are elevated in the next House majority.
“The question on the other side of the aisle is: What will Republicans do? Are they gonna double and triple down on the extremism that we’ve seen from people like Marjorie Taylor Greene? That would be unfortunate,” he said.
Still, Jeffries said, there were some areas of potential common cause — though he drew a bright line between those opportunities and Republican probes of the White House, which conservatives have said is needed oversight.
“Our mission is to find ways to work with Republicans whenever possible to get things done for the American people, to work on issues related to the economy and inflation and lowing costs, fighting for better paying jobs and safer communities,” Jeffries said. “But we will also oppose them when we must,” he added, “particularly as it relates to any effort to go down this rabbit hole of unnecessary, unconscionable, unacceptable investigations of the administration.”
Jeffries says he’s not a ‘past election denier’
Stephanopoulos asked Jeffries if he had a response to criticism from Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Jeffries was a “past election denier” for attacking Trump’s legitimacy as president.
“My view of the situation has been pretty clear: I supported the certification of Donald Trump’s election. I attended his inauguration … At the same time, I will never hesitate in criticizing the former president,” he said.
Jeffries went on to denounce Trump for suggesting on his social media platform this weekend that the Constitution should be overturned because of Trump’s baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election he lost.
“The Republicans are gonna have to work out their issues with the former president and decide whether they’re gonna break from him and return to some semblance of reasonableness or continue to lean into the extremism, not just of Trump, but of Trumpism,” Jeffries said. “Suspending the Constitution is an extraordinary step, but we’re used to extraordinary statements being made by the former president.”
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