(CNN) — New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who is poised to succeed Nancy Pelosi as the next Democratic leader in the House, said Sunday that he hasn’t “recently” had a conversation with GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to lead the Republican-controlled chamber next year.
“I haven’t had a conversation with Leader McCarthy recently,” Jeffries told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “I do have, I think, a much warmer relationship with Steve Scalise. Look forward to working whenever and wherever possible, Jake, with the entire House Republican Conference and the leadership team to find common ground to get things done for everyday Americans to make progress.”
Asked by Tapper whether he thinks McCarthy has what it takes to be House speaker, Jeffries replied: “That’s a decision, ultimately, that the House Republican Conference is going to have to make.”
“He does seem to be struggling to get to 218. Let’s see what happens on January 3,” he said, referring to the number of votes the California Republican needs to wield the speaker’s gavel.
The House Republican Conference voted last week for McCarthy to be its leader, with the California Republican fending off long-shot challenger Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a former chairman of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus.
“It’s worth being challenged and make sure your competition’s there. But we have to work as one conference because if four want to vote one way, four can vote another,” McCarthy told Fox on Sunday. “We have to unite as Republicans and understand the commitment we made to the American people.”
Jeffries told Tapper that Democrats will push back on any “overreach” from the House GOP in the congressional investigations the party is planning to pursue against the Biden administration.
“We will absolutely defend the Biden administration and his track record of success if it comes under assault by people attempting to politicize our governmental responsibilities, without question,” Jeffries said. “And I expect that we will strongly and vigorously be involved in pushing back against any effort at overreach by the extreme MAGA Republican wing of the House Republican Conference.”
Tapper asked Jeffries when he first learned that Pelosi was planning to step down from her leadership role.
“I think all of us learned definitively that she was planning to step back when she delivered that speech on the House floor,” Jeffries said. “It was a historic speech for the ages by a speaker for the ages. I thought it was so incredibly well done.”
Asked how he was able to consolidate Democratic support for his leadership bid, Jeffries didn’t directly answer the question, instead saying: “My focus, Jake, has really been to do the job that I have as caucus chair to the best of my ability and try and let the rest take care of itself.”
As of Sunday morning, Jeffries, who currently serves as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, is running unopposed in his bid to lead House Democrats.
Jeffries struck a positive tone on party unity when asked about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat from New York, recently telling The New York Times that there needed to be “healing” in the caucus following Pelosi’s decision to step down.
“I have great respect for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and every single member of the House Democratic Caucus,” Jeffries said. “The thing about us, Jake, is that while we can have some noisy conversations at times about how we can make progress for the American people, what we’ve seen is that, under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, we’ve constantly been able to come together, time and time again.”
“My point is, Jake, that though people have doubted us, tried to create this frame of Democrats in disarray, we always are consistently able to come together, find the highest common denominator, get things done for everyday Americans and make progress,” Jeffries added.