The impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump didn’t end the way Democrats on Capitol Hill might have wanted, but the ordeal managed to boost the national reputation of at least one rising star in the party. Hakeem Jeffries, one of the impeachment managers who presented the case against Trump to the Senate, represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens (and made headlines when he quoted the Notorious B.I.G. in his closing arguments), and was elected in November to chair the House Democratic Caucus. Now, the 48-year-old is seen by many as Nancy Pelosi’s heir apparent when she eventually steps down from the Speaker’s chair. But the past year has been tricky: His affiliation with the more establishment wing of the Democratic Party—and his acceptance of campaign donations from interests they oppose—has at times landed him in the crosshairs of the fiery progressives in the new freshman class. Earlier this week, he sat down in his House leadership office with GQ’s Julia Ioffe to discuss the aftermath of impeachment, the most exciting new faces in the Democratic Party, and how Trump can be beaten at the ballot box.
GQ: Now that it’s all said and done, do you think it could’ve been done differently, or was it doomed from the outset because of the Senate?
HAKEEM JEFFRIES: House managers proved our case against the president with overwhelming evidence. It’s clear that Donald Trump corruptly abused his power, and several Republican senators acknowledged that fact even though they voted to acquit him. We did the right thing in defending our democracy and presenting a decisive case both to the Senate and to the American people. Donald Trump corruptly abused his power, and he obstructed a constitutionally mandated impeachment inquiry. The Senate has acted, but now it’s in the hands of the American people, who are the ultimate jurors.
You got Romney to come over. Do you think there’s anything your team could’ve done to pick off more Republicans?
Heading into the impeachment trial, the president seemed confident that he would hold every single Republican vote and possibly gain Democratic senators like Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema. The case the House managers presented was so strong that we held every single Democratic vote and gained Mitt Romney, who became the first senator in American history to vote to remove a president of his own party.
Now, the president clearly feels vindicated, he is more popular than ever, and Rudy Giuliani is out there saying he’s going to keep investigating Joe Biden. If Giuliani continues using the powers of the executive branch to do that, what options do you have?
Rudy Giuliani is totally out of control. He is a failed mayor, a failed lawyer, and a failed presidential candidate. Someone needs to undertake a clinical intervention as it relates to Rudolph Giuliani running around the world, trying to do the president’s political bidding—
Clinical intervention? Are you saying he should be institutionalized?
—in a manner that resulted, in part, in Donald Trump’s impeachment. But ultimately, Donald Trump is the one who is responsible for executing a corrupt scheme and a geopolitical shakedown to solicit foreign interference in the American election. House managers made clear that we don’t believe that Donald Trump will learn a lesson from his political near-death experience. It is clear that Donald Trump is further emboldened to cheat in the election—and that’s on the United States Senate.
Does the House have any recourse? Is a second impeachment in the cards?
In my view, no. It’s in the hands of the American people at this point to decide the fate of Donald Trump.
What if he’s re-elected, would you undertake a second impeachment?
It’s my expectation that he will not be re-elected. In fact, I disagree with the premise that some have articulated, which is that President Trump has emerged from the impeachment more popular than ever before. A Quinnipiac poll that came out this week showed President Trump decisively losing to every single Democratic candidate.
To be fair, polls had him losing to Hillary Clinton, but we know how that worked out. He says he feels totally vindicated, and he fired two of the witnesses who testified in the impeachment trial. Should we just stay off Fifth Avenue if he’s in the area?
Well, Donald Trump clearly feels that he can shoot holes in the Constitution on Pennsylvania Avenue and get away with it. But ultimately I believe the American people will have the final decision and that his out-of-control, erratic, corrupt behavior will not be tolerated and he will be decisively defeated in November.
What did you think of Speaker Nancy Pelosi tearing up Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech? Divisive or a good move?
As far as I’m concerned, a shredder wasn’t available so she did the right thing.
Looking ahead, would you like to be speaker someday?
That’s the furthest thing from my mind, because we’ve got a tremendous speaker right now in Nancy Pelosi, and I’ve got a job to do and that is to be the best possible Democratic Caucus chair as I can be.
Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the future of the Democratic Party?
The future of the Democratic Party rests between a wide variety of members, and I’m not going to pick and choose between this particular member or that particular member. I have great respect for every single member of the House Democratic Caucus. From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Max Rose and everyone in between. We have a phenomenal class of new members, many of whom, like Max Rose and Abigail Spanberger, have served this country in an extraordinary fashion before arriving to the House of Representatives. Collectively, it’s a tremendous class, they’ve been a great asset to the Congress and the American people, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all of them.
So you’ve made up with the Justice Democrats? I know they were talking about primarying you.
From my standpoint, primaries are a beautiful thing and I look forward to taking my case and record to the people of the 8th Congressional District should someone decide to come forward with a primary challenge. In fact, from my standpoint, feel free to primary me! This is a democracy and we can battle it out on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens.
So you’re saying “bring it”?
Come on in, the water is warm.
Let’s talk about the Democratic presidential primary. We started off with a tremendously diverse field, and now we’re left with a bunch of white folks. What happened?
The field is what it is at the moment, but I do think it is unfortunate that some of the extraordinary candidates of color, like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, felt compelled to drop out prior to the first vote being cast. That said, every single one of the Democratic candidates who are competing in the primary right now would be a better president than Donald Trump.
You’ve said that Bernie Sanders is “presumptuous” on race. Do you think he has improved his rhetoric and his policy positions?
His current campaign has certainly done a better job of more explicitly and directly addressing the problem of racial injustice in America, but beyond that, I reserve judgment. I am aggressively neutral in the Democratic presidential primary.
Even with Michael Bloomberg? You made your name in New York trying to undo stop-and-frisk. Audio from his 2015 speech at the Aspen Institute was just released in which he defends the policy.
We fought Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to dismantle the unconstitutional and out-of-control stop-and-frisk program as implemented in New York City. It was outrageous, it was harmful, and it was destructive in the manner in which communities of color were treated. I’m on record in that regard and worked with then [New York State] senator Eric Adams to move legislation that forced the New York Police Department to dismantle the database that was maintaining the names of millions of innocent people who were stopped and questioned but who were let go because they did nothing wrong. That said, I do believe that Mayor Bloomberg’s apology was heartfelt and authentic, in part because Mike Bloomberg prides himself on evaluating the data. In fact, when he was mayor of New York, he would often say, “Trust in God. All others bring data.” That’s what he’s all about. Any evaluation of the data after stop-and-frisk was dismantled suggests that crime didn’t go up; it went down significantly. The data makes clear that stop-and-frisk, as aggressively practiced during the Bloomberg years, had nothing to do with the decline in crime because crime went down dramatically once stop-and-frisk was declared unconstitutional. As a result, I believe that Michael Bloomberg, looking at the data, could authentically conclude that he was wrong and therefore should apologize.
Why didn’t he look at the data and apologize until he decided to run for president?
It’s a good question, and certainly it’s a question that I think he’s going to have to answer moving forward. It is important for Mayor Bloomberg—and I’ve said this publicly and privately—not simply to talk the talk as it relates to an apology, but to walk the walk and deal with some of the racial-justice issues that continue to infect the criminal justice system.
You said that any of the Democratic candidates would be a better president than Donald Trump. Is that true for Michael Bloomberg?
Michael Bloomberg was a self-made billionaire who was fired from a job at Salomon Brothers and then had to reinvent himself at a point where a lot of people, having been knocked down on the ground, may not have gotten up. Unlike Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg did not inherit his wealth from his father. He is a successful entrepreneur, and that is a textbook part of the American dream. He’s also used his wealth, unlike Donald Trump, to give back to causes, like dealing with climate change as well as addressing the gun-violence epidemic in America, in a way that is positive in terms of civil society. Donald Trump has done the exact opposite. To the extent that he has any discretionary wealth to share, he certainly has not done so throughout his life.
But does it set a certain precedent that only the ultra-rich can become president?
Ultimately, I trust the American people, both in the context of who becomes the Democratic nominee and who ultimately becomes the 46th president of the United States of America, to make a decision that is in the best interests of our future.
The African-American community is obviously diverse and is not a monolith, but do you think it can trust Pete Buttegieg given his handling of the police shootings when he was mayor of South Bend?
In my view, the biggest obstacle that Pete Buttegieg will have to overcome is the contentious relationship that appears to exist between the mayor and the African-American community back home in South Bend, Indiana.
If Bernie Sanders is the nominee, do you think he risks alienating the moderates in the party and throwing the election to Trump?
Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden have both said that if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, they’re going to support Bernie Sanders and do everything possible to bring everybody together. I agree with them that it’s the right perspective, and it’s my hope that supporters of folks like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders draw the same conclusion, that whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee deserves the full support of every single person of good will in America so we can change direction and kick Donald Trump out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Why are Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren struggling by comparison? Do you think a woman can be president?
I certainly think a woman can be president. I campaigned throughout the country for Hillary Clinton because she was phenomenally qualified and would have made a spectacular president. In fact, Hillary Clinton may have been the most qualified individual ever to run for the presidency, and it’s very disappointing that she lost. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are spectacular public servants who have a great vision for the country, and it’s not over until it’s over. We only have begun the process of selecting a nominee, and the overwhelming majority of states have not even had the opportunity to have their voices heard.
Right, but I’m talking more about the added barrier of sexism that female candidates have to face.
America has come a long way on a whole host of issues, but we still have a long way to go. And we need to deal with issues like gender equality, and at some point that glass ceiling at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be broken. Hillary Clinton would have been a phenomenal president. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren would be excellent presidents as well, should they make it through the Democratic primary.
Do you wish Rep. Rashida Tlaib hadn’t booed a reference to Hillary Clinton at a Sanders event earlier this month?
I was in the midst of the impeachment trial at that point in time so—
But you saw the clips afterwards, surely.
Barely. So I’m not really in a position to comment. I think Rashida Tlaib clarified what was done in a manner that indicated, to me at least, that had she had an opportunity to do it all over again, she would not have booed.
So you wish she hadn’t booed.
Well, I mean, listen, I think it’s obvious in terms of her own perspective that she wished that she hadn’t done it, and I think that’s exactly correct.
Do you think Hillary Clinton shouldn’t have made the comments critical of Bernie that elicited Tlaib’s reaction? Do you wish Clinton had stayed out of it?
Well—and mind you, I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—he’s doing a good job as a candidate right now and has excited a lot of people and should be credited with that fact. I stood squarely behind Hillary Clinton in 2016, and I have no regrets.
Do you think she should play an active role in the primary or keep her peace?
It’s my expectation that she’ll keep her peace as a prior nominee, as other individuals have done, like John Kerry and Al Gore and certainly President Barack Obama.
Okay, last question: Who killed Biggie?
You know, that is a great mystery that needs to be resolved, as well as the unsolved mystery of the death of Tupac Shakur. These were two phenomenal, inspirational voices whose prophecy through lyrics has withstood the test of time, and it’s a shame that we haven’t been able to figure out who pulled the trigger as it relates to these two dynamic individuals. Hopefully, at some point, for the sake of closure, those crimes can be solved.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julia Ioffe is a GQ correspondent.
Originally Appeared on GQ