Barbara Lee announces bid for Democratic Caucus chair

Barbara Lee announces bid for Democratic Caucus chair
© Getty Images

Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOvernight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight House panel advances 6B Pentagon bill on party-line vote House panel votes to repeal 2001, 2002 war authorizations MORE (D-Calif.) on Monday jumped into the race to replace outgoing Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) atop the House Democratic Caucus, setting the stage for a contest that’s sure to highlight the thorny questions of identity politics swirling around the party as many lawmakers clamor for change heading into the 2020 presidential cycle.

In a letter to her colleagues, Lee is vowing to spread power to a greener crop of lawmakers, many of whom have been frustrated by the long tenure of the current leaders.


“Our caucus is at its best when everyone has an opportunity to contribute and collaborate,” Lee wrote. “My top priority will be offering new ways to engage all members.”

The caucus chairmanship position opened up last month after the shocking primary defeat of Crowley, a popular 10-term lawmaker who was seen by many Democrats as a potential heir to Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (D-Calif.). His unexpected loss to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist and first-time candidate, means his leadership position will be up for grabs next year.

Lee, 72, will face Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), 49, a former head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who announced her bid for the post last week and edged out Lee by two votes in 2016 to become caucus vice chair. Others are also thought to be eying the race in the wake of Crowley’s loss.

If Lee secures the post, the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus would be the first African-American woman in either party to hold a House leadership post.

Lee has served in Congress since 1998 and brings a long track record fighting for liberal caucuses, particularly efforts to expand federal poverty-alleviation programs. In recent months, she’s toured the country with Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats warn leadership against excluding House from infrastructure talks Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers Bipartisan antitrust leaders urge FTC to pursue Facebook case MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, to raise the profile of her anti-poverty crusade.

Lee is also among the loudest advocates for heightened congressional oversight of U.S. military operations, having called for years for a new authorization resolution to govern the use of force in Syria and elsewhere. She gained national attention in 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization for the use of force after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Her entry into the race comes as House Democrats are at odds over who’s best equipped to lead the party back into the majority after eight years of Republican rule. Pelosi, Hoyer and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat, have held the top posts for the past 12 years, and many newer members are seeking the chance to climb into the leadership ranks.

Lee, like Sánchez did last week, devoted much of her pitch to the idea that she’d fight for such opportunities.

“I will provide robust member services to empower everyone in our caucus and develop more forums to showcase your innovative work,” she wrote to fellow Democrats.

“It is important to me to build on Chairman Crowley's work equipping all offices with the cutting-edge, creative tools — and especially digital resources — to engage directly with constituents.”