Editor's note: This file has been updated to correct Rep. George Santos's party affiliation.
Democrats are looking to pick up three, four or even five seats in New York to win back the House majority and make Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) the Speaker.
Jeffries, the House minority leader, has longtime relationships with leaders in the New York state Senate and state Assembly and will have a major say over the state’s congressional map, New York Democratic sources say. The state is drawing a new map after a court determined a version drawn by a court-appointed special master for the 2022 midterm election was a temporary solution.
Current and former Democratic officeholders and party officials from New York who spoke to The Hill on condition of anonymity say Jeffries will wield significant influence over the redistricting process — and they note that New York stands to benefit substantially if he becomes Speaker.
If Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) keeps his job as Senate majority leader and Jeffries gains the Speaker’s gavel, it would put two New Yorker Democrats in charge of Congress.
“If they don’t listen to Jeffries, they’re crazy,” one Democratic official said of the upcoming redistricting process. “They’re going to want to follow Hakeem’s lead. He’s very well-respected, he’s very well-liked.”
Among the seats New York Democrats are eyeing is the one belonging to disgraced Rep. George Santos's (R-N.Y.). Santos represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, to which they are likely to add more Democratic voters to ensure it flips.
Retired Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) is eyeing a comeback to Congress and has indicated he would run as the Democratic candidate for his old seat in the 3rd District if Santos steps down or is expelled from Congress before his term is over, New York Democratic sources say.
If Santos stays in his job through the end of the 118th Congress, which he says he intends to do, there would be a crowded Democratic primary race to run against him in the 2024 general election. In that case, Suozzi is expected to announce his decision about whether to run again for Congress in the fall.
Former state Sen. Anna Kaplan, The Next 50 co-founder Zak Malamed and Nassau County legislator Josh Lafazan are in the mix of candidates who would run for the seat if there isn’t a special election to replace Santos.
Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), announced in April that House Democrats will target five other first-term New York Republicans in addition to Santos: Reps. Nick LaLota, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams.
A gain of six congressional seats would be enough to flip the House to Democratic control. Republicans currently hold 222 seats while Democrats have 212.
One of those targeted incumbents, Molinaro, told reporters last week that New York voters are getting “exhausted” by the battles over the House district boundaries.
“However the lay of the land, you know, adjusts, I’ll roll with the punches. I do think, though, voters are getting a little bit exhausted by the multiple changes in districting and it’s just an utterly confusing situation for too many voters,” he said.
Democrats are feeling increasingly optimistic about picking up three to five congressional seats in New York next year, given their party’s disappointing performance in the state last year, when Republicans picked up three seats and defeated DCCC Chairman Patrick Maloney.
“Anything is possible. I wouldn’t take any seat off the table, personally. So we will be fighting to mobilize in all of the districts held by Republicans,” said Rep. Grace Meng, who represents New York’s 6th District in Queens.
Former Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) says Democrats should be able to pick up four or five seats in the Empire State. He ranked the 3rd and 4th congressional districts on Long Island and two upstate as the best pick-up opportunities.
He also predicted there will be “close coordination” among Democratic leaders in New York and Washington and “Jeffries will get what he wants.”
Putting out a Democratic-friendly map is no sure thing. The New York Independent Redistricting Commission is in charge of writing the map, which must be approved with two-thirds majorities in both state chambers.
Democrats got too greedy in the last election cycle and had their map thrown out, but party officials tell The Hill they believe the legislature can draw up a new map that will help Democrats pick up as many as five House seats while staying within the bounds of state law.
Several Democratic officials who spoke to The Hill predicted that the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission will fail to reach an agreement and that drawing a new map will fall to the New York state legislature, where Democrats control supermajorities in both chambers.
If that happens, they say Jeffries will wind up playing a significant role in influencing the new congressional district boundaries.
The redistricting debate is heating up behind the scenes because New York officials are talking about moving up their 2024 primary to earlier on the calendar — April 2 instead of June 23.
Jeffries told reporters at the U.S. Capitol last week that he just wants New York to have a “fair map” and urged the Independent Redistricting Commission to do its job.
“All we want is fair maps to be drawn all across the country,” he told reporters. “We want a fair map in Alabama, a fair map in Louisiana, fair maps in North Carolina and Ohio, in Wisconsin, certainly fair maps in New York.”
Jeffries kept his distance from the redistricting debate and insisted it will be up to the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw the new lines.
“In the case of my home state, I think it’s important that the Independent Redistricting Commission, which is bipartisan in nature be given the opportunity to complete its work to try to find common ground and present a congressional map to the legislature that gives every community — urban New York, suburban New York, rural New York — an opportunity to have its voices heard in deciding in what the congressional delegation emerging from New York should look like,” he said.
A New York appeals court ruled last month in Democrats’ favor that the state must redraw its congressional map before the 2024 presidential election. Republicans, however, have appealed that ruling to New York’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, putting the legal battle on hold until September.
If the Court of Appeals rules for Republicans, then Democrats will be stuck with the same map they had in 2022.
In the meantime, the Independent Redistricting Commission will be able to hold hearings and solicit input for a new map.
But Democratic officials are skeptical they will come up with any proposal that can muster the necessary bipartisan support within the commission as well as approval by supermajorities in the state Senate and state House.
“Either the Independent Redistricting Commission makes a deal or more likely gives it their best effort, fails and then the Democratic legislature steps in, which is what happened last time but they overreached and the rest is history,” said a Long Island-based Democratic party official and former officeholder.
Jeffrey Wice, a professor at New York Law School and an expert on redistricting, said if the Independent Redistricting Commission deadlocks, Democrats in the state legislature should be able to come up with a map that meets court approval.
“I think the legislature can draw a lawful map that complies with the criteria included in the Constitution,” he said. “It’s the legislature’s responsibility to comply with the new constitutional amendment’s rules and to produce a map that meets population equality, minority voting rights and other criteria.
“If it does that, then they’re not going to have a problem. If they violate any of the criteria, they could end up in court all over again."
Mychael Schnell contributed.
--Updated at 7:41 a.m.