GOP slams new top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries for calling Trump a 'racial arsonist'

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesRep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat.
  • In an effort to paint the Democratic Party as increasingly radical, the GOP has begun attacking a rising star in the House, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
  • Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel attacked Jeffries in a Wednesday tweet accusing him of characterising President Donald Trump and his administration as “racist.”
  • Jeffries has pointed to Trump’s years-long promotion of the “birther” conspiracy and his widely condemned response to a deadly neo-Nazi march last year, among other actions, and called Trump a “racial arsonist.”

In an effort to paint the Democratic Party as increasingly radical, Republicans have begun attacking a rising star on the left, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who was elected into a House leadership position on Wednesday and is widely viewed as a potential future speaker of the House.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel attacked Jeffries in a Wednesday tweet accusing him of characterising the president and his administration as “racist,” and calling the Brooklyn Democrat a “radical.”

Jeffries has specifically said he doesn’t believe the president is a racist, but described Trump as a “racial arsonist” who “uses race to advance his own ends” in an interview with CNN last year after Trump blamed “many sides” for a deadly Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.

In that interview, Jeffries said Trump “chose to pull the sheets off and reveal himself, in terms of his tendency to be a racial arsonist, fanning the flames of hatred,” an apparent reference to the KKK’s white robe uniform. And he argued that the president has a history of elevating racist sentiment, pointing to Trump’s years-long promotion of the “racist lie” that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US, known as the “birther” conspiracy.

McDaniel also referred to Jeffries’ April 2017 comment that, “while Jim Crow may be dead, he’s got some nieces and nephews that are alive and well. And a few of them are running around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

And she appeared to attack comments Jeffries made on the House floor last year, in which he argued that while not every Trump supporter is a racist, “every racist in America voted for Donald Trump.”

Despite repeatedly claiming to be “the least racist person,” the president has drawn fire for comments and actions widely condemned as racist for as long as he has been in public life. Trump called for the death penalty in 1989 for the “Central Park Five,” a group of black and latino teens later exonerated of rape charges; he debuted his presidential campaign by degrading Mexican immigrations as criminals and “rapists” and was advised by Steve Bannon, whose website Breitbart has espoused white nationalist views; has characterised majority-black nations as “s–thole countries,” and attempted to ban all immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, among a host of other actions widely decried as racist.

Some of Trump’s own supporters, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have called some of Trump’s remarks racist, including the president’s assertion that a judge was biased against his administration because of his Mexican heritage.

Jeffries, 48, was elected chairman of the House Democratic caucus on Wednesday – the fifth most-senior leadership role in the lower chamber – and is one of the youngest members of the party’s new leadership team, at at time when many in the party are pushing for a new generation of leaders.

But many progressives were pulling for Rep. Barbara Lee – a 72-year-old from California with a strong left-wing record – over Jeffries, who ultimately beat Lee by 10 votes.

Jeffries’ ascendance was facilitated by another New York progressive, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who successfully primaried longtime incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, who currently occupies the post Jeffries will soon take over.

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