Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaks to members of the media after a session of House Democrats' organizational meeting to elect leadership at the Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium November 28, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Hakeem Jeffries' Foreign Policy Worldview Is Far From Progressive

Despite his trail-blazing role as the first Black leader of a major party's caucus, Jeffries' foreign-policy views don't veer from the status quo.

On Wednesday, House Democrats unanimously elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to serve as their party's new leader following Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) recent decision to step down from her leadership role.

Jeffries, who served as an impeachment manager for House Democrats in former President Donald Trump's second Senate trial, is widely expected to follow in Pelosi's centrist footsteps. Though he has stayed relatively quiet about his policy views during his decade in Congress, his election will likely draw blowback from progressive activists given his role in founding Team Blue PAC, an election fund aimed at blocking progressive primary challenges of centrist Democrats.

Jeffries has never given much attention to foreign policy, but available evidence suggests that his views line up closely with those of other establishment Democrats.

When it comes to Ukraine, the lawmaker has called on President Joe Biden to emphasize that "this is really a battle between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and repressive government."

"An attack on any democracy is an attack on every democracy," he tweeted shortly after Russia's invasion in February.

He has even expressed sympathy for the idea of establishing a NATO-enforced no-fly zone in Ukraine, arguing in March that such a move wasn't "off the table" despite the fact that it would likely involve direct combat between U.S. and Russian forces.

Jeffries has rarely weighed in on issues related to defense spending. However, it is worth noting that he voted in favor of a $740 billion defense bill in 2020, a proposal that received a "no" vote from all nine other members of New York City's congressional delegation.

Despite his generally hawkish views, Jeffries has sided with progressives and anti-war advocates on a few issues, including a vote to require congressional authorization for the U.S. military mission in Syria. As Erik Sperling of Just Foreign Policy noted on Twitter, Jeffries also signed onto a congressional letter last year in which progressive lawmakers called for a review of the humanitarian impact of American sanctions.

As for the war in Yemen, the Brooklyn-based lawmaker voted in favor of the 2019 War Powers Resolution that would have forced the United States to withdraw its support for Saudi Arabia's devastating campaign against the Houthi-led insurgency. (Trump quickly vetoed the measure, which never earned enough support in Congress to overturn the block.)

Notably, Jeffries supported the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, a measure that would criminalize efforts to boycott Israeli goods in protest of Tel Aviv's treatment of Palestinians, which critics say violates the First Amendment. In his most recent election, he received more than $270,000 in donations from hawkish pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC.

He has also rankled progressives with his steadfast support for Israeli military operations. When Tel Aviv launched an attack on Gaza in 2014, Jeffries applauded the move, likening Israel's situation to living in a dangerous city.

"But when you live in a tough neighborhood Israel should not be made to apologize for its strength," he wrote in a statement. "You know why? Because the only thing that neighbors respect in a tough neighborhood is strength."

Despite his emphatic support for Israel, Jeffries broke with Tel Aviv in 2015 by supporting the Iran nuclear deal, arguing that the agreement is the "most preferable vehicle to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."

Notably, the centrist congressman has said little about the brewing cold war between the United States and China. He did, however, support the CHIPS Act, which will provide over $50 billion in funding aimed at developing the U.S. semiconductor industry in an effort to compete with Chinese manufacturers.

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