California Representative Barbara Lee announced this week that she is running for Democratic Caucus chair, facing off against Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-CA) who just announced her own bid for the number four House leadership position.
In a letter to her fellow Dem reps, Lee, who represents the 13th congressional district, which includes Oakland and Berkeley, said that “I am so inspired to fight alongside you as we work to win back the majority. There is nothing more important than returning bold Democratic leadership to Congress. With that in mind, I’m excited to announce that I am seeking the position of House Democratic Caucus Chair for the 116th Congress.”
Lee is seeking the position that would be vacated by New York Congressman Joseph Crowley, who just lost in the party primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Democratic socialist who supposedly represents the new wave of the Party. In recent months House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and the two other top Dem leaders, all in their 70s, have faced calls to be replaced by younger politicos.
Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, is arguably one of the most liberal Democratic caucus members. She was the only member of Congress to vote against the measure, passed just days after 9/11, authorizing the President to force against those responsible for the attacks, giving President George W. Bush the green light to wage war in Afghanistan. The measure, which Lee last year unsuccessfully tried to have repealed, has since been used to justify everything from the detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo bay to fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
But despite her strong ideological underpinnings, Lee in her announcement stressed the importance of a unified front, rather than pulling the caucus to the left.
“Our caucus has the talent and the vision to improve the lives of all people. We must shine a light on our greatest strengths: our members, our Democratic energy and compassion, and the agenda that reflects our collective vision.”
Ocasio-Cortez has suggested Lee might be a good House Speaker.
“Is Barbara Lee available?” she asked last month.
But the 72-year-old Lee, who was the first black cheerleader at her San Fernando high school, has said she doesn’t seek any other leadership position besides caucus chair. Bucking all the calls for change, she insists the rest of the leadership—Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, the assistant minority leader—should stay intact.
“I think the House leadership has really done a good job,” she told Vox. “I think our leadership has broadened the participation of a lot of new members. We have to continue to strengthen it, but I think at least from what I’m hearing, most members see the fact it has been moving in the right direction. But there are other members talking about leadership changes very publicly. I haven’t been one of those; I think we’ve got to stay unified.”
Lee has been a persistent Trump critic from the beginning, refusing to certify his electoral college victory and boycotting his inauguration. “I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House,” she said in a press release.