Hakeem Jeffries is not yet a speaker, but the Democrat may be the most…

WASHINGTON (AP) — Without wielding the gavel or holding a formal job enshrined in the Constitution, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries could very well be the most powerful person in Congress right now.

As minority leader of the House Democrats, it was Jeffries who provided the votes needed to keep the government running despite opposition from Republicans in the House of Representatives to prevent a federal shutdown.

Jeffries, who helped Democrats get the numbers to send $95 billion in foreign aid to Ukraine and other U.S. allies.

And Jeffries, who, with the full force of Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives behind him, decided this week that his party would help Chairman Mike Johnson stay in office rather than be ousted by far-right Republicans led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“How powerful is Jeffries right now?” said Jeffery Jenkins, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about Congress. “That is significant force.”

The decision by Jeffries and the House Democratic leadership team to lend their votes to stop Johnson’s impeachment marks a powerful turning point in what has been a long political season of dysfunction, gridlock and chaos in Congress.

By declaring that enough is enough, that it’s time to turn the page on the Republican tumult, the Democratic leader is projecting his power in a very public and timely manner, an attempt to sway lawmakers and all who watch in dismay. broken Congress, that there can be an alternative approach to governing.

“From the very beginning of this Congress, Republicans in the House of Representatives have unleashed chaos, dysfunction and extremism on the American people,” Jeffries said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Jeffries said that with Republicans in the House of Representatives “unwilling or unable” to “control extreme MAGA Republicans,” “it will take a bipartisan coalition and partnership to achieve that goal.” We need more sanity in Washington, DC, and less chaos.”

In the House of Representatives, the minority leader is often seen as the incoming speaker, the party’s highest-ranking official out of power, biding his time in hopes of regaining the majority—and with it the speaker’s gavel—in the House of Delegates. the next elections. Elected by their own party, it is a job without much formal support.

But in Jeffries’ case, the position of minority leader has taken on enormous power, filling the political void left by the actual speaker, Johnson, who commands a fragile, razor-thin Republican majority and is under constant threat from far-right provocateurs who the GOP speaker cannot fully control.

“He acts as a shadow speaker on all the important votes,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

While Johnson still has the powerful tools of the Speaker’s Office, a job outlined in the Constitution and second in the line of succession to the presidency, the Republican-led House has navigated a tumultuous session of infighting and unrest, resulting in their objectives and priorities not being achieved.

In a fit of discontent just months into their majority, far-right Republicans ousted the previous chairman, now-retired Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, last fall in an unprecedented act of party defiance. He declined to specifically ask Democrats for help.

Johnson faces the same threat of removal, but Jeffries sees Johnson as a more honest broker and potential partner whom he is willing to support at least temporarily — even if Johnson hasn’t openly asked for help from the other side of the aisle either. A vote on Greene’s motion to fire the speaker is expected next week.

While Johnson joins Donald Trump and receives the nod of support from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, it is Jeffries who holds what Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Emeritus, has mentioned the “currency of the realm” – votes – needed in the House to get an agenda across the finish line.

Pelosi said in an interview that Jeffries “has always had influence” as minority leader because of the small majority in the House of Representatives.

“But what matters is that he shows he’s willing to use it,” she said.

Jeffries has been “masterful,” she said, in securing Democratic priorities, especially humanitarian aid, in the foreign aid package that Republicans initially opposed.

But Pelosi disagreed with the idea that Democrats currently backing Johnson are creating some kind of new coalition era in American politics.

“Our House functions because we are willing to allow both parties to function,” she said. “He’s not necessarily saving Speaker Johnson — he’s upholding the dignity of the institution.”

Jeffries is a quietly confident player who is positioning himself and his party as purveyors of democratic norms amid the Republican thunderclap of Trump-era disruption.

Jeffries, the first Black American to lead a political party in Congress, is already a historic figure whose stature will only rise further if he is chosen as the first to wield the gavel as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Jeffries, 53, a Brooklyn native, steadily rose through the ranks of New York state politics and then onto the national stage. Assemblywoman Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to Congress.

A former corporate lawyer, Jeffries is also known for his sharp oratory skills, drawing on his upbringing at the historically Black Cornerstone Baptist Church, a spiritual home for many grandchildren and great-grandchildren of enslaved African Americans who fled to Brooklyn from the American South. But he also imbues his speeches and remarks with a modern sensibility and cadence, bridging generations.

Last year, when Republicans couldn’t muster votes on a procedural step for a budget and debt deal, it was Jeffries who stood intently at his desk in the House chamber and lifted his voting card to let Democrats know that it was time to act. and delivery.

Repeatedly, Jeffries has secured the Democratic votes to prevent a federal government shutdown. And last month, as Johnson faced a full-blown Republican revolt over Ukraine aid, Jeffries intervened again, assuring that Democrats had more votes than Republicans to pass the aid.

Ahead of the November elections, the two parties are locked in a battle for political survival in the closely divided House of Representatives, and Jeffries would certainly face his own challenges as leader of the Democrats if they win the majority would acquire, divided over many important issues.

But Jeffries and Johnson have both been in a cross-country sprint, raising money and enthusiasm for their own party candidates ahead of November — the Republican speaker trying to keep his job, the Democratic leader waiting to take over.

Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press