The incoming House Democratic leader was challenged Sunday to answer for past comments questioning the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who is poised to succeed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as leader next year, was shown a clip of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) labeling Jeffries a 2016 “election denier” who suggested Trump was a “fake president.”
“It’s unfortunate that Republicans have chosen to focus on me,” Jeffries said. “House Democrats are going to focus on solving problems for the American people.”
George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC’s “This Week,” pressed the issue during a Sunday interview, noting Jeffries did raise doubts about Trump’s legitimacy. He also stressed that Republicans are making this a “big issue.”
Asked again to respond, Jeffries focused on the “Republican playbook,” in which he said, “facts don’t matter, hypocrisy is not a constraint to their behavior, and in many cases, they believe shamelessness is a superpower.”
He appeared to be alluding to how Trump and his allies claim the 2020 contest, won by President Joe Biden, was stolen, though election officials and the courts have rejected their accusations of widespread fraud. This followed the 2016 election, in which some Democrats questioned Trump’s victory, often pointing to alleged Russian election interference.
Jeffries claimed his “view of the situation has been pretty clear,” explaining his position in detail.
“I supported the certification of Donald Trump’s election. I attended his inauguration, even though there were many constituents and others across the country pushing me and others to do otherwise, and found ways to work with the Trump administration, being the lead Democrat in negotiating historic criminal justice reform,” Jeffries said.
“That track record speaks for itself. At the same time, I will never hesitate in criticizing the former president. I think I’m in good company there throughout the world,” he added.
Jeffries also downplayed the chances of Democrats seeking a compromise with Republicans to elect the House’s next speaker if Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) fails to garner the 218 votes needed in January, as his party will have a narrow majority and there are a handful of Republicans voicing opposition to McCarthy’s ascension to the role.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a possibility,” Jeffries said. “Right now, Democrats are preparing to get ourselves ready as we transition temporarily from the majority into the minority.”