The GOP's 'election denier' attack on Hakeem Jeffries, explained

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Nov. 30, congressional Democrats elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) as their new party leader for the coming legislative term, replacing outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who earlier announced plans to step back from the role she's held for decades.

Jeffries, long considered a "rising star" in Democratic politics, is now the first Black lawmaker to lead a major political party in American history. But within hours of securing his new position, conservatives began coalescing around a new — and for many, surprising — label for Jeffries: "election denier."

Who is saying it? 

The official political body of the GOP, the Republican National Committee, lead the charge against Jeffries by blasting out a press bulletin and accompanying tweet labeling the new Democratic leader an "election denier" who they claimed is "just as unhinged, crazy, and far left" as Pelosi.

While the line of attack on Jeffries had, itself, been floated several weeks earlier by the RNC, it was amplified in the immediate wake of his intra-party election by major conservative media outlets, and — crucially — given the imprimatur of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) himself. Speaking on the Senate floor the morning after Jeffries' election, McConnell labeled the new minority leader "a past election denier, who basically said the 2016 election was 'illegitimate' and suggested that we had a 'fake president'" as part of an extended speech on the alleged hypocrisies of the left.

Other conservative lawmakers and commentators have echoed the charge, including former Donald Trump administration physician Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

What has Jeffries said? 

During his time in office — and specifically during the years under the Trump administration — Jeffries has repeatedly criticized the former president, and the GOP as a whole, for both complacency in documented Russian efforts to subvert the 2016 presidential election, as well as proactive efforts to manipulate the 2020 race.

Does that mean Jeffries is, in fact, an "election denier"? 

In so much as Jeffries has indeed called the legitimacy of the Trump presidency into question, the label could technically apply here. However, nothing he's said has been substantively different from statements made by other major figures in the Democratic party, including Hillary Clinton, Rep. John Lewis (R-Ga.), former President Jimmy Carter, and current President Joe Biden. Relatedly, conservative efforts to newly frame Jeffries' comments stretching back years as a hypocritical reflection on the Democrats ignores Trump's active and ongoing manipulation of the electoral process for his own future benefit.

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