January 06, 2022


WASHINGTON, DC – In case you missed it, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. 

WOODRUFF: Congressman Jeffries, thank you very much for being with us. I believe you heard at least part of what Congressman Nehls was saying, but I want to ask you, you were on the floor of the House on January 6, what memory do you take away from that day?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, what took place on January 6 was a violent attack on the Congress, the Capitol and the Constitution, and it was, of course, incited by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, who for several months prior to January 6 had perpetrated the Big Lie that he actually won the election and that it was stolen from him. He radicalized millions of people across the country, and some of them showed up on January 6 intent on effectively overthrowing the government and trying to halt the peaceful transfer of power. You know, it's a day like Pearl Harbor and like Bloody Sunday down in Selma, Alabama, and like September 11, that should live in infamy here in America and throughout the world.

WOODRUFF: As we said, you were there on the floor. How close did it come to being even worse than it was there? Ultimately, these rioters were not able to get into the House chamber, they did get into the Senate. But from your perspective, how close did we come?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: We came very close. I recall the Sergeant at Arms interrupting the debate that was underway with respect to the results in Arizona. He said something that I can remember as vividly as if it was said just today. When he said, "The mob has breached the Capitol. They're on the second floor. They're a few steps outside of the House chamber, be prepared to hit the floor and secure the gas masks that are underneath your seats." I'd been in Congress at that point for eight years. Never did I have any real understanding that there were gas masks in the House chambers, let alone would have to utilize them one day. Thankfully, at some point, the Capitol Police found an escape route and they were able to safely evacuate Members of Congress, but many of us at that particular time thought we were actually going to have to fight for our lives.

WOODRUFF: And when we heard Congressman Nehls refer to some people or many people, in his words, being ushered into the building, did you witness that in any way?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: The Capitol was violated, folks urinated, they desecrated the citadel of our democracy. This fantasy and fiction that, you know, for many people, it was all wine and roses is after-the-fact spin. That's why the bipartisan January 6 Select Committee is so important in uncovering the truth, presenting it to the American people in terms of what happened, why it happened that day and also coming forward with some recommendations as to how to prevent that type of violent attack, an assault on our democracy, from ever happening again.

And Judy, let me make this one point about the Democratic and Republican Members of the Select Committee, Chairman Bennie Thompson, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, they're doing a great job. No Member of that committee hates Donald Trump, but they do love democracy. They do love America. We all do. We do love the peaceful transfer of power. That's why we're committed to uncovering the truth.

WOODRUFF: You've spoken about how, in fact, Congresswoman Cheney approached you, even as the assault on the Capitol was taking place, spoke to you about how to hold President Trump accountable. As you point out, she and Congressman Kinzinger are now serving on that committee. They are, though, the very much tiny minority in their party. Have any Republicans in the House spoken to you, privately, reflecting any views differently from what we're hearing from the Republican leadership in the House?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, the Republican leadership has completely abdicated any responsibility in the context of ensuring that the events around January 6 never happen again and that they shouldn't be looked at through a partisan lens because that was an American tragedy. Now, there are dozens of House Republicans that did, fortunately, vote to certify the election of Joe Biden, and I do have conversations with many of them. They did the right thing that night, and hopefully, they will continue to try and do the right thing and stand up to the efforts by Donald Trump and his authoritarian coconspirators to really obliterate American democracy, which would not be good for anyone, not good for Democrats, not good for Republicans, not good for Independents, not good for America.

WOODRUFF: But do you think there are more than the 10 who voted to impeach him later? I mean, are we looking at a situation where there may be more, I don't know, closet Republicans who are prepared to stand up or is what you see what there is?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: It's my hope that Republicans of goodwill beyond Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and those who voted to hold Donald Trump accountable for inciting that violent insurrection through their impeachment vote will stand up and reclaim their party because right now the Republicans are not the party of Ronald Reagan, they're not the party of John McCain, they're not the party of Bob Dole or George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush. They're not even the party of Mitt Romney. They are the party of Donald Trump and a violent insurrection. Take your party back for the good of America.

WOODRUFF: Congressman, I want to turn to something that has grown out of what happened that day, and of course, the challenge to the election. That's the effort by Democrats to get voting rights reform legislation passed. Up until now, no Republicans have, at least in the Senate, have expressed a willingness to do this. But just in the last few days, we're hearing from some Republicans that they might be willing to look at the way the electoral vote is counted instead of voting rights reform. Is that something that you think could be acceptable?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: It's not an either/or situation. We have to do both. The right to vote is sacred to the integrity of our democracy. This principle of one person, one vote and government of the people, by the people and for the people is really brought to life by every single American being able to exercise their franchise, choosing who represents them at all levels of government. And so, we've got to elevate that because we have a voter suppression epidemic that is taking place all across the country. The John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act are critical in making sure we push back against that.

At the same time, this principle of the peaceful transfer of power, which is central to American democracy — Republican presidents handing off to Democratic presidents and vice versa — that was interrupted and almost disrupted permanently on January 6, and reforming the Electoral Count Act is an important thing that should be done to tighten up some loose ends that exist right now in that peaceful transfer of power. 

WOODRUFF: Congressman, in the time we have left, it is a political year. Midterm elections coming in November. It doesn't look like a good year at this point for Democrats, for historical reasons and others. Right now, is there one thing -- what would you like to see President Biden do that could help Democratic prospects this November?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: President Biden is doing a great job in making sure that we confront the COVID crisis, anchored in science and evidence in a decisive fashion, and he'll continue to lead in that way. At the same time, deal with the economic challenges, that we confront inflation, continue to create millions of good-paying jobs, and then we'll have to sell the American people on what we've done and we'll be able to do that, particularly when we get the Build Back Better Act over the finish line.

WOODRUFF: But my question is, how confident are you that can happen given opposition in your own party in the Senate?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: I'm very confident. You know, we're not a cult, we're a coalition and so we have to work with the various components of that coalition, including Senators Manchin and Sinema. I believe President Biden, who knows the Senate better than perhaps any president in modern-American history, he'll get it done.

WOODRUFF: Are you prepared to see big changes, though, in the Build Back Better bill as it is, for example, cutting in half the threshold household income amount for the Child Tax Credit?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, the tax cut for children and families through the Child Tax Credit has been transformational for working families, low-income families and middle-class families. I think we have to continue to keep it robust, but let's have a conversation and see what Senator Manchin comes up with. At the end of the day, we need a product that decisively makes life better for everyday Americans, and if we get that product, it's something I can live with.

WOODRUFF: So, maybe something below $400,000, household income. Just finally, Congressman Jeffries, we know Speaker Pelosi has said she does intend to serve through the remainder of this term, but if she decides not to run for leadership again, are you going to run for your party's top position in the House?

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, I've got a job to do as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and I also have to go back to the voters to try to get my two-year employment contract renewed in 2022. So, I'm going to keep the focus on that for the moment.


Watch the full interview here