Two years ago, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) ran for a leadership post, House Democratic Caucus Chair, against Rep. Linda Sanchez. Sanchez barely won over Lee by a margin of less than five votes out of the more than 190 members of the Democratic Caucus. The position is the fourth highest for House Democrats.
When Lee announced in July she would run for Democratic Caucus Chair again she appeared to have a lock. Lee is well known for her singular vote against the Iraq War during the Bush administration. She is also highly regarded as a champion of progressive issues and a fighter for the poor.
There has never been a woman in the position of House Democratic Caucus Chair. The first African American to hold the position was the late Pennsylvania Rep. William Gray in 1989.
The position may be a little-known intraparty title to some, but the House Democratic Caucus Chair job is widely viewed as a steppingstone position for House speaker. As former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 78, faces questions about her leadership, many are asking who will come next.
On Nov. 28, two members of the Congressional Black Caucus ran against each other for the position. They were Lee and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). To the surprise of many, Lee lost to Jeffries 123-113. Democrats who are friends with Rep. Lee were taken by surprise as were many political onlookers.
Former DNC CEO and Howard Dean Chief of Staff, Leah Daughtry, wrote on Facebook, “Congratulations to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries who beat out Rep. Barbara Lee to be Democratic Caucus Chair. He’ll do a fine job, no doubt. Disappointed though that this means there will be no Black women in the Democratic Leadership ranks. Actually, more than disappointed … more like angry. Angry and tired. We are the majority-makers but have no seat at the decision-making table. I’m tired. So tired.”
Daughtry is also a co-author of the best-selling book, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics.”
Fellow California Rep. Jackie Speier indicated she believed that ageism and sexism played a role in Barbara Lee’s defeat. Saying members should have the “courage” to vote in a public way in House leadership races. Currently, the votes are taken by secret ballot.
“There’s this game that some of my colleagues play where they say one thing to one member and then say something else to another member,” Speier said.
Many viewed the defeat of Lee over Jeffries as a triumph of monied interests over progressive values. Though Tom Watson, founder of CauseWired, pointed out on Twitter that Jeffries voting record is just as progressive as Lee’s.
“I love Barbara Lee, but this concerted – and inaccurate – attack on Jeffries by many in the Sanders orbit is pretty damned capricious. The guy is an A-rated progressive literally on same page as Lee on voting record,” wrote Watson a journalist and author based in New York.
Regardless of the defeat, Lee released a gracious statement on the results and what she plans to do moving forward.
“I want to congratulate Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on a hard-fought race. I look forward to working with him to advance a progressive, inclusive agenda for the American people. While I didn’t win today, I hope my candidacy will inspire other women, and women of color in particular, to run for elected office and seek leadership positions. Our Caucus can only succeed when every voice is represented in leadership.
It is a profound honor to follow in the footsteps of my late mentor, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who made history as the first African American woman elected to Congress. She used to tell people, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.’ My vision is a leadership table where folding chairs are no longer required. And I will keep working, alongside my colleagues, to realize that future,” Lee wrote after losing to Jeffries.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and writer for NNPA as well as a political analyst and communications strategist. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter @LVBurke