How Trump’s impeachment created two Democratic superstars
But in other ways, the two men are cut from completely different cloth. Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, is not the elbow-rubbing, back-slapping pol that typically ascends to power on Capitol Hill. He’s more Paul Ryan than John Boehner, more Eric Cantor than Kevin McCarthy.
Schiff doesn’t fit comfortably in a box: Once a moderate Blue Dog now seen as more progressive, he is white in a caucus that’s increasingly diverse and from California — the same state that’s run the party for 17 years. He could rise by dint of his sheer outside-the-Beltway popularity, and hero-like stature on the left he’s earned through the Russia probe and impeachment.
Schiff has piles of campaign cash, the ultimate currency of House power. He uses his campaign account — filled with nearly $7 million — to help his colleagues keep their seats. Schiff’s campaign says he’s raised or donated more than $3.5 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and front-line candidates in 2019. During the 2018 cycle, Schiff’s campaign says he raised or donated $3.7 million for House Democrats and candidates.
A source close to Schiff — this person’s self-description, not POLITICO’s — said: “After the trial, [Schiff is] looking forward to focusing on his Intelligence Committee responsibilities as well as working to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.”
A House Democrat — insisting on anonymity to speak candidly about Schiff — described the California Democrat thusly: “A towering ego, backed up by towering talent.”
Senators are not typically not quick to praise members of the House, but Schiff has earned plaudits from the upper chamber.
“He blew peoples’ socks off,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who was friends with the California Democrat in the House. “It’s pretty hard to get over-the-top praise from people with egos as big as United States senators.”
But Schiff’s next move could be a Cabinet post that takes advantage of his legal talents. Several lawmakers said Schiff — a Harvard law graduate and former federal prosecutor — should be on the shortlist for attorney general should Democrats topple Trump in 2020.
Jeffries, on the other hand, has relied on his keen political instincts and hard work to scale the ranks of Democratic leadership at a breakneck pace since coming to Congress in 2013. As a leader of House Democrats’ messaging arm last cycle, Jeffries is credited with helping craft the message that helped Democrats regain House majority.
After the 2018 election, Jeffries was promoted to House Democratic Caucus chairman, the No. 5 spot in leadership, and a prime slot for ascending the party’s hierarchy. He has spent much of this Congress working feverishly to develop relationships across the caucus — the kind of work that needs to be done to ascend to the caucus’s top position.
Jeffries aides declined to provide fundraising numbers — unusual for someone seeking to ascend in the House. But they noted he traveled more than 20 times for lawmakers last year.
“Hakeem is limited only by his ambition. Whatever spot to which he aspires could be, if he wants it, the last place or it could be a launching pad,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said.
Jeffries has the added benefit of being a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a Democratic power center that will have an outsize role in picking the next speaker.
Time, as much as anything, may be pivotal to their future successes. Before Jeffries and Schiff, there had been a conga line of similarly ambitious, talented lawmakers who saw their rise blunted by the entrenched trio of House Democratic leaders: Pelosi, Hoyer and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Those Democrats largely decamped to the Senate, ran for other higher office or retired into obscurity. One oft-mooted future speaker — Joe Crowley of the Bronx — lost his seat to a young upstart, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He is now a lobbyist.
After nearly two decades with Pelosi as leader, the jockeying when she retires is expected to be a mad scramble, chaos that could lead to a bitter and contentious race for the speakership, with Schiff and Jeffries potentially at the center of the action.
“Just focus on the job you’re supposed to do and do the best you can,” counseled Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
Like Schiff and Jeffries, Van Hollen was once seen as Pelosi’s heir apparent. He decamped for the Senate in 2016 when it was clear his time might never come.