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Jeffries on N.Y., Biden v. Trump and why he’s ignoring the polls

The Jeffries Interview. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries knows his party is in pole position to win back the House. With Republicans enjoying a slim, five-seat majority thanks to Democratic overperformance in 2022, the chamber is heavily favored to flip control in 2024. This would make Jeffries the first Black speaker in U.S. history.

We spoke to Jeffries about the role New York will play in the elections, how the presidential race will affect the House campaign and what races he’s tracking.

New York. No region will receive as much attention in the battle for the House as Jeffries’ home state. Democrats are singularly focused on knocking off six freshman incumbents in blue seats: Reps. Nick LaLota, George Santos, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams.

What happened in 2022 was a “perfect storm” of anti-Democratic factors, Jeffries said. The Brooklyn Democrat cited a new map drawn by a special master, a number of retirements that left key seats vacant and a “challenging political environment” for Democrats.

Jeffries is playing an active role behind the scenes as Democrats push to have the congressional maps redrawn ahead of the election next year.

In our sitdown, Jeffries vowed that Democrats wouldn’t repeat their mistakes:

Biden’s bad poll numbers. President Joe Biden’s approval rating is hovering at 37%, something that privately worries many Democrats. Recent New York Times polling found Biden trailing Trump in numerous battleground states.

But Jeffries says Biden’s middling poll numbers don’t matter one bit to him. Democrats, Jeffries reminded us, overperformed the polls last cycle.

“The polling, to me, is not of any concern because there was only one poll that has mattered in the last few years,” Jeffries said. “And that was the verdict on Election Day in 2022.”

Here’s more:

We pressed Jeffries on Biden — if his poll numbers aren’t concerning, do you worry about his age? But Jeffries didn’t budge, insisting the president is the best person to lead their party to victory next year.

The Trump effect. Jeffries sees the presidential race as a clear boon for House Democratic candidates, predicting it will again juice up turnout and motivate voters to oppose former President Donald Trump.

“President Joe Biden will be back on the ballot in all likelihood against Donald Trump, a supervillain who is terrible for democracy,” Jeffries said. The House minority leader loves to call out “extreme MAGA Republicans” — he mentioned the phrase 10 times during our interview — and sees the rhetoric as a political gift for Democrats.

“The villain is the extreme MAGA Republican ideology and track record, which has done nothing to improve the lives of everyday Americans,” Jeffries said. “When House Democrats had the majority, we delivered big results for the American people.”

While Jeffries described new Speaker Mike Johnson as “smart,” he said the Louisiana Republican believes in the same “extreme” ideology as Trump. This is something Democrats plan to hit Republicans on over and over again between now and next November.

The map. Outside of New York, Jeffries identified three pickup opportunities in California — Reps. David Valadao, John Duarte and Ken Calvert — as prime flips. Plus, Jeffries singled out vulnerable GOP Reps. Juan Ciscomani and David Schweikert in Arizona.

AIPAC. We also asked Jeffries about the increasingly hostile tone AIPAC’s PAC is taking toward certain pro-Palestinian Democratic incumbents. Jeffries has always been staunchly pro-Israel and is aligned with AIPAC, which puts him in a bit of an awkward spot here.

“House Democratic leaders… have been clear in terms of our support for our colleagues and that’s going to continue,” Jeffries said. He cautioned that he hadn’t seen any explicit action taken by the PAC against incumbents yet.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Jeffries said.

Days after our interview, United Democracy Project — the AIPAC-affiliated super PAC — began running ads attacking Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) and Summer Lee (Pa.) for not supporting a pro-Israel House resolution. UDP also went after GOP Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.) for his vote.

— Max Cohen and Heather Caygle

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

It’s taking the IRS years to process a small business tax credit. 1M+ small business owners who filed for the Employee Retention Credit are stuck in backlog or waiting on payment for their claims. Tell the IRS to lift the moratorium now.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.