Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) launched an official bid for Democratic House Caucus Chair last week.
The opening for the party’s fourth-in-command position was created by last month’s defeat of the chair, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), by Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The chair holds significant power in the party as the director of meetings with House Democrats as well as the party’s agenda.
Caucus chair is also considered a steppingstone to higher leadership in the part including House speaker.
If elected, Lee would be the first Black woman to hold a top leadership position in either of the major political parties.
According to a Politico report, Lee said Black women have been the “backbone” of the Democratic party and now need to pursue roles in the party’s leadership structure.
While in college, Lee worked on Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 presidential campaign and friends with Black Panther Party founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.
“When you look at the history of the Democratic Party and the Democratic leadership, African-American women … we’ve been the backbone of the Democratic Party — we should be in the face of leadership also,” Lee reportedly said.
Many believe if the left-leaning Lee is elected, it would represent a major ideological shift in the Democratic Party’s leadership toward its more progressive wing.
Democratic leadership has not changed for years. The top three leadership roles in the party are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who are 78, 79 and 77, respectively.
Lee, who has served in the House since 1998, previously chaired the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chaired the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
She gained notoriety in 2001 when, three days after the September 11 attacks, she was the lone member of Congress to vote against the war in Afghanistan and use of military force against those responsible for terrorist attacks. Recently, she was one of 35 representatives to vote against a bill that would impose harsher penalties for assaulting police officers.
Lee has co-sponsored legislation for Medicare for All, free college, a ban on private prisons, women’s reproductive rights, raising the federal minimum wage, enacting automatic voter registration, imposing a tax on Wall Street to invest in communities and the reduction of the use in fossil fuels, while current leadership has not. Pelosi and Hoyer only co-sponsored legislation to increase the federal minimum wage.
Progressive political action group Our Revolution released a scorecard last year, the People’s Platform, that tracks and rates Congressional representatives’ commitment to the aforementioned legislative issues.
Of the four Democrats in House leadership positions, Crowley has the highest rating on the platform’s scorecard with 50 percent. Pelosi and Hoyer received a 13 percent rating, while Clyburn received a 25 percent.
Lee, who received a rating of 100 percent, will be running against fellow California Rep. Linda Sanchez, who is the current Democratic Caucus vice chair and holds a 38 percent rating on the People’s Platform scorecard.
In 2016, Lee fell just two votes shy of the Democratic Caucus vice chair post when she ran against Sanchez.
“I am so inspired to fight alongside you as we work to win back the majority,” Lee wrote in a letter to her colleagues announcing her bid. “There is nothing more important than returning bold Democratic leadership to Congress.”