Rep. Hakeem Jeffries On The Democrats' Economic Plan
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
If you're following the seesaw that is our politics these days, last week was good for the Democrats. Republicans failed to replace Obamacare, and the White House has been in disarray with personnel changes and infighting. But the Democratic Party is still in the minority and struggling to connect with voters ahead of the 2018 elections. So enter the rebrand. This past week, Democrats revealed their new economic message called the Better Deal, with promises of better jobs, lower prices for prescription drugs and tougher stances on corporate monopolies.
And in a not-so-subtle nod to winning back white voters, they launched their plan in a small, rural Virginia town. We've asked Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York to join us to talk about how the economic plan is going to help Democrats win back their party and rally their base. He joins us now. Welcome.
HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seems all the top leaders of the Democratic Party trooped down to Berryville, Va., last week, a town that went for Donald Trump last election. Is winning the white vote now vital to the party?
JEFFRIES: Well, we want to win every possible vote in urban America, suburban America - as well as rural America. Certainly, there are places where, coming out of the 2016 election, we can afford to do that. What became clear to us is that there are a lot of voters throughout America who don't understand what the Democrats represent, with the exception of opposition to Donald Trump.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. In the wake of this, though, I've seen African-American leaders say, hey, we are the bedrock of the party. African-American women, for example, voted over 95 percent for Hillary Clinton. But we've seen fewer of them showing up at the polls on Election Day. Could this wooing of white voters alienate black voters?
JEFFRIES: Well, the only one that seems to be talking about the wooing of white voters are the pundits. This is a powerful economic message, an agenda that is designed to deliver for the American people from urban America all the way through to rural America. That is what the Democratic Better Deal agenda is all about.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But, sir, are you not concerned about African-American turnout? We have seen a dip.
JEFFRIES: Well, I certainly - I'm representing a district that is majority African-American and Caribbean-American. We'll always remain focused. As for my colleagues, on issues of importance to the African-American community, we continue, even in this difficult Congress in Washington, to work on things such as criminal justice reform, trying to strengthen the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court damaged a few years ago, combating the issue of police brutality and the excessive use of force.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, sir, you don't necessarily have to convince me. I mean, it was actually African-American leaders who seemed slightly perplexed by the choice of launching this agenda in a small, rural Virginia town. It seemed to suggest that white voters were the priority of the Democratic Party at this point.
JEFFRIES: Yeah, I'm a little bit perplexed by that suggestion. In fact, I've said to several African-American leaders that an economic agenda is consistent with what our civil rights leaders have suggested we should deliver for African-Americans and all Americans, going all the way back to the 1963 March on Washington, which, of course - its full title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. So I think that a democratic economic agenda focused on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would be an important step forward for all Americans. Certainly, African-Americans would benefit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mentioned something which, I think, is at the heart of the difficulties that the Democrats face. They are facing criticism for not having a cohesive economic message. But at the same time, their base wants them to still champion issues like transgender inclusion, the environment, diversity. Are you stepping away from those issues which could be seen as polarizing? Is that the strategy?
JEFFRIES: Not at all. I think we'll run toward those issues. This isn't an overall agenda laying out every single plank upon which House Democrats or Senate Democrats will stand. This is an economic agenda developed for the American people, you know, to lead to higher pay, lower costs and providing people with the ability to advance themselves and their families in the 21st century.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Congressman Jeffries, co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. Thank you so much.
JEFFRIES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.