California Rep. Barbara Lee enters a key House leadership race

Rep. Barbara Lee accepts the Elizabeth Taylor Legislative Leadership Award at the AIDSWatch 2016 Positive Leadership Award Reception at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on Feb. 29, 2016
(Paul Morigi / Getty Images)

Rep. Barbara Lee will seek to lead the Democratic Caucus next year, making her the second Californian to enter the race.

“Whether it’s working across the aisle to enact HIV/AIDS laws, or bringing the Sanders and Clinton campaigns together behind a cohesive and progressive Democratic platform, my career has been dedicated to finding common ground and delivering results. Over the years, I have fought to lift families out of poverty and empower everyday people. As your caucus chair, I will ensure that we hear every view, respect every member and welcome every voice,” Lee said in a letter to colleagues Monday.

If Democrats pick the Oakland lawmaker as Democratic Caucus chairwoman in the election this fall, she would be the first black woman to serve in House leadership.

Lee said in the letter that she wants to focus on making sure every member gets input in leadership and is well equipped to communicate directly with constituents.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, the current caucus vice chairwoman, announced a bid for the post last week, and other representatives could still enter the race. In 2016, Sanchez won the post over Lee by just two votes.


The fourth-ranking position in the Democratic leadership is a common springboard to eventually becoming speaker, or minority leader.

New York Rep. Joseph Crowley’s surprise loss in a primary last month unexpectedly opened the position. Crowley, who was once seen as an eventual replacement for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina activist running her first campaign.

Lee is seen as a progressive hero to many young Democrats. First elected in 1998, the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus was the only representative to vote against the authorization for the use of military force in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She said the authorization, which gave President George W. Bush authority to use the military to fight terrorism, was too open-ended. Nearly 20 years later, it is still being used to send American troops into battle around the world without congressional approval.

Ocasio-Cortez said after her race that she’d back Lee, a sentiment echoed by other young, progressive House members.

“She’s just a voice of courage and principle,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said. “It’s time that we have an African American woman in leadership.”

When she was first contemplating running, Lee said she can bring Democrats together while respecting their differing views.

“I’ve always worked with all parts of our caucus to bring people together and unify them. Even as a progressive … I never challenge people on their views and I never hit below the belt,” Lee said. “I would hope that’s a strength, bringing people together.”

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