Rep. Barbara Lee has long been on the political periphery, but the party may now be coming around to her.
After finishing two votes shy of breaking into House Democratic leadership in 2016, the left-leaning California Democrat is counting on a stronger start — and a liberal base clamoring for hard-edged resistance to President Donald Trump — in her bid to win election as Democratic Caucus chair.
In an interview with, Lee touted the “new wave” of progressive energy and noted that Democrats have never had an African-American woman in leadership.
“I want to be a voice at the table that really hasn’t been at the table,” she said.
Whether Lee gets the chance may depend on her ability to win over younger House Democrats calling for generational change in leadership.
The 72-year old Lee has been in Congress for 20 years and praises the caucus’ longtime leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. That’s in stark contrast to her opponent in the race: Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who is demanding turnover at the top and who defeated Lee two years ago for the post of Democratic Caucus vice chair.
The leadership post became vacant last month after progressive insurgent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York in a primary. Ocasio-Cortez, who recently had a low-key Capitol Hill visit, name-checked Lee as someone who belongs in party leadership in an interview after her election win.
But as she hunts for votes, Lee is also casting herself as someone who can work with both the centrist and left wings of the party. She touts her work with allies of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to craft a progressive Democratic platform in 2016 and has occasionally reached across the aisle to find common ground with Republicans.
Her most well-known stand was serving as the lone vote against the Afghanistan War in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But now she’s winning GOP support for new oversight of the president’s war powers.