|Co-Chair of the House Democratic Steering Committee|
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2019
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Member of the|
U.S. House of Representatives
|Assumed office |
April 21, 1998
|Preceded by||Ron Dellums|
|Constituency||9th district (1998–2013)|
13th district (2013–present)
|Member of the California State Senate|
from the 9th district
December 2, 1996 – April 17, 1998
|Preceded by||Nicholas Petris|
|Succeeded by||Don Perata|
|Member of the California State Assembly|
from the 16th district
13th district (1990–1992)
December 3, 1990 – November 30, 1996
|Preceded by||Elihu Harris|
|Succeeded by||Don Perata|
Barbara Jean Tutt
July 16, 1946
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Education||Mills College (BA)|
University of California, Berkeley (MSW)
Barbara Jean Lee (née Tutt; born July 16, 1946) is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative for California's 13th congressional district. Now in her 12th term, Lee has served since 1998, and is a member of the Democratic Party. The district, numbered as the 9th district from 1998 to 2013, is based in Oakland and covers most of the northern part of Alameda County.
Lee is a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (2009–2011) and the chair emeritus and former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (2005–2009). She is the vice chair and a founding member of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. Lee has also co-chaired the House Democratic Steering Committee since 2019. She has played a major role in the antiwar movement, notably in her vocal criticism of the Iraq War and, following the September 11 attacks, for being the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of use of force.
Lee was born Barbara Jean Tutt in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of Mildred Adaire (née Parish) and Garvin Alexander Tutt, a lieutenant colonel. Lee is African-American, and according to a DNA analysis, she descends primarily from the people of Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. She was raised Catholic.
Lee moved from Texas to California in 1960 with her military family parents, and attended San Fernando High School in the Pacoima neighborhood of Los Angeles. A divorcee before she turned 20, Lee was a young single mother of two receiving public assistance when she began attending Mills College. She received an MSW from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975.
As president of the Mills College Black Student Union, Lee invited Representative Shirley Chisholm to speak on campus and went on to work on Chisholm's 1972 presidential campaign, serving as her delegate at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Also as a student, she was a volunteer at the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party's Community Learning Center and worked on Panther co-founder Bobby Seale's 1973 Oakland mayoral campaign.
Lee was a staff member for U.S. Representative Ron Dellums as well as a member of the California State Assembly and the California State Senate before entering the U.S. House of Representatives. She was elected to Congress in a 1998 special election with 66% of the vote. She won the seat in her own right later that year with 82.8% of the vote, and has been reelected eleven more times with no substantive opposition in what has long been one of the most Democratic districts in the nation. It presently has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+40, making it the most Democratic district in California and the fourth-most Democratic in the nation. The district and its predecessors have been in Democratic hands without interruption since 1959.
Lee's voting record as a member of the House was ranked by the National Journal in 2007, based on roll-call votes on economic, social and foreign policy issues in 2006. Lee scored an overall 84.3%, meaning she voted with a more liberal stance than 84.3% of the House. National Journal scored Lee as voting 82% liberal on economic issues, 92% liberal on social issues, and 65% liberal on foreign policy. The 92% rating on social issues came from Lee being grouped with 35 other House legislators who all tied for the highest, most liberal ranking. Lee received a 97% progressive rating from "The Progressive Punch" and a 4% conservative rating from the American Conservative Union. In 2016, GovTrack's 2015 Report Card on members in Congress ranked Lee the 3rd most progressive member of the House.
Lee endorsed Barack Obama for president in the 2008 Democratic primary. In February 2019 she endorsed Kamala Harris in the 2020 Democratic primary.
As of October 2021, Lee had voted in line with Joe Biden's stated position 100% of the time.
Lee gained national attention in 2001 as the only member of congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), stating that she voted no not because she opposed military action but because she believed the AUMF, as written, granted the president overly broad powers to wage war at a time when the facts regarding the situation were not yet clear. She "warned her colleagues to be 'careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target'". Lee has said:
It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk. The president has the constitutional authority to protect the nation from further attack, and he has mobilized the armed forces to do just that. The Congress should have waited for the facts to be presented and then acted with fuller knowledge of the consequences of our action.
Her vote made national news and a large and extremely polarized response, with the volume of calls gridlocking the switchboard of her Capitol Hill office. Although it appears to have reflected the beliefs of the majority of her constituents, the majority of responses from elsewhere in the nation were angry and hostile, some calling her "communist" and a "traitor". Many of the responses included death threats against her or her family to the point that the Capitol Police provided round-the-clock plainclothes bodyguards. Lee was also criticized by politicians and in editorial pages of conservative-leaning newspapers, e.g. John Fund's column in The Wall Street Journal. In 2002, she received the Seán MacBride Peace Prize from the International Peace Bureau for her vote.
In her speech, she quoted Nathan D. Baxter, dean of National Cathedral: "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."
On June 29, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee approved Lee's amendment to repeal the 2001 AUMF that was the foundation of the U.S.'s post-September 11 military actions. The amendment, if passed, would have required that the AUMF be scrapped within 240 days. In June 2021, Lee sponsored a bipartisan bill in the House to repeal the AUMF, which passed, 268 to 161. A similar bipartisan bill is set to be examined by the Senate.
Although Lee is considered a liberal Democrat, she has occasionally split with members of her party throughout her career, especially on foreign policy. She voted to limit military operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, against authorizing air strikes, and for a Republican-backed plan to completely withdraw U.S. troops from the operation, all in 1999. Lee voted against the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. She was one of only 46 Democrats to vote for the Online Freedom of Speech Act of 2005. Lee was one of only 13 Democrats to vote against an emergency supplemental appropriations bill in 2007 which, among other things, funded the Iraq War but required withdrawal of U.S. forces to begin by October 1, but in favor of overriding President Bush's veto of the measure on May 2. In November 2009 Lee was one of 36 representatives to vote against House Resolution 867, which condemned the UN's Goldstone Report. She voted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. Lee also voted in favor of similar resolutions involving troop withdrawal from Pakistan and, most recently, Libya. She joined her Republican colleagues, one of 70 Democrats to do so, in voting against a resolution to authorize limited use of force in Libya. Lee was also one of only 36 Democrats to vote to limit funds appropriated for military operations in Libya.
In an August 2017 interview, Lee said of President Donald Trump's comments on North Korea, "His saber-rattling is putting the world at risk. The United States should be the grown-up in the room", and that his rhetoric reminded her of news about the Cuban Missile Crisis during her mid-teens, adding, "the words of war weren’t as profound and dangerous and scary [then] as they are now."
In September 2018, Lee was one of 11 House Democrats to sign a statement announcing their intent "to introduce a new, privileged resolution in September invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to withdraw U.S. Armed Forces from engaging in the Saudi-led coalition’s conflict with the Houthis should additional escalations continue and progress fail to be made towards a peace agreement."
In April 2019, after the House passed the resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Lee was one of nine lawmakers to sign a letter to Trump requesting a meeting with him and urging him to sign "Senate Joint Resolution 7, which invokes the War Powers Act of 1973 to end unauthorized US military participation in the Saudi-led coalition's armed conflict against Yemen's Houthi forces, initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration." They asserted the "Saudi-led coalition's imposition of an air-land-and-sea blockade as part of its war against Yemen’s Houthis has continued to prevent the unimpeded distribution of these vital commodities, contributing to the suffering and death of vast numbers of civilians throughout the country" and that Trump's approval of the resolution would send a "powerful signal to the Saudi-led coalition to bring the four-year-old war to a close".
In July 2019, Lee voted against a House resolution condemning the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel. The resolution passed 398–17.
In October 2020, Lee co-signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemning Azerbaijan’s offensive operations against the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In April 2021, Lee supported Joe Biden's plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Lee is a strong advocate for legislation restricting the availability of guns. She participated in the 2016 sit-in against gun violence in the House of Representatives. Democratic members of Congress adopted the slogan "No Bill, No Break" in an attempt to push the introduction of legislation increasing restrictions on guns. In a statement on the sit-in, Lee said:
Time and again, House Republicans have blocked our ability to keep Americans safe by preventing us from passing common sense gun reforms, including closing a glaring loophole that allows suspected terrorists to purchase weapons of war. These weapons of war, some of which can fire 900 rounds per minute, have no place on America's streets. We simply cannot allow this insanity. My constituents and people from all over the nation have been demanding action, but they are being ignored by the House's Republican leadership. Too many people have already been lost to senseless gun violence. Enough is enough; Congress must act to protect the lives of Americans.
Lee introduced the Women and Climate Change Act in February 2018. The bill aims to create a Federal Interagency Working Group on Women and Climate Change. Lee said of the Act, "Climate change is already impacting communities around the world with a disproportionate effect on the world's poorest residents. Women make up the majority of the world's poor and are especially vulnerable to abrupt changes in the environment. As leaders in their families, women are called upon to find food and clean water, secure safe housing, and care for loved ones. As climate change worsens, provoking historic droughts, rising sea levels and violent storms, women and girls will bear the brunt of this global crisis".
Lee is the author of the Shirley A. Chisholm United States-Caribbean Educational Exchange Act, which would enhance U.S. foreign relations with CARICOM nations. This act directs the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a comprehensive program that extends and expands existing primary and secondary school initiatives in the Caribbean to provide teacher training methods and increased community involvement in school activities. The bill is named for Shirley Chisholm, who helped inspire Lee to become involved in politics when Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination for president; Lee was the Chisholm campaign's Northern California Chair.
In 1968, Lee began volunteering at the Black Panther Party's Community Learning Center in Oakland. She also worked on Bobby Seale's 1973 campaign for mayor of Oakland.
Lee disagreed with the National Park Service removing funding for a Black Panther Legacy Project in 2017. She released a statement saying, "It is outrageous that the National Park Service has stripped resources from the Black Panther Party Research, Interpretation & Memory Project. The Black Panther Party was an integral part of the civil rights movement and the public has a right to know their history. I call upon the National Park Service and the Department of Interior to provide a full explanation as to why these critical federal resources have been taken away".
Lee has supported a number of efforts to reform cannabis laws in Congress. In 2018, she introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, penalize states that enforce cannabis laws disproportionately (regarding race or income status), and enact other social justice-related reforms. Additional legislation Lee has introduced includes the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act, and the Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades (RESPECT) Resolution. Lee was an original cosponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act when it was first introduced in 2011. In January 2019, she was named a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
In 2001, Lee and other House members objected to counting Florida's electoral votes in the 2000 presidential election after a contentious recount. Because no senator joined their objection, it was dismissed by Senate President Al Gore, who lost the election to George W. Bush.
In 2005, Lee was one of 31 House Democrats who voted not to accept Ohio's electoral votes in the 2004 presidential election. Bush won Ohio by 118,457 votes.
After the 2016 presidential election, Lee objected to Michigan's and West Virginia's electoral votes. Because no senator joined her objections, they were dismissed. Donald Trump won Michigan by slightly over 10,000 votes and West Virginia by over 300,000 votes.
Lee called for a 10% cut to the military budget of the United States. She backed an amendment to reduce the size of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, but a majority of Democrats and Republicans rejected it.
Lee has made affordable housing in the East Bay area and beyond a top priority. She has supported and backed legislation meant to expand home ownership opportunities, improve public housing quality, and assist the homeless.
Lee was strongly critical of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which places restrictions on health insurance plans providing coverage for abortions in the context of the Affordable Health Care for America Act. She supports Medicare for All.
Lee is pro-choice. On September 30, 2021, in a hearing of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform, she recounted having to travel to Mexico for a "back-alley" abortion in the 1960s. "I’m sharing my story even though I truly believe it is personal and really nobody’s business—and certainly not the business of politicians. But I’m compelled to speak out because of the real risks of the clock being turned back to those days before Roe vs. Wade", she said. Lee opposed the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade, which she called an "attack on reproductive freedom" and blamed on a "decades-long coordinated strategic assault on women's rights by right-wing extremists".
On September 29, 2008, Lee was one of 95 Democrats to vote against the defeated Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. She voted for a modified version on October 3.
In 2002, Lee's opposition to the death penalty was recognized by Death Penalty Focus, which gave her the Mario Cuomo Act of Courage Award.
In March 2018, Lee said, "I unequivocally condemn Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic and hateful comments."
On November 30, 2018, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi announced that she had recommended Lee to become one of three co-chairs of the Steering and Policy Committee, alongside Rosa DeLauro and Eric Swalwell. The change was approved on December 11, 2018.
On March 15, 2013, Lee announced the official relaunch of the Congressional Social Work Caucus to the 113th Congress as its new chair.
Lee chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2008 to 2010.
On November 28, 2018, Lee lost an attempt to become chair of the House Democratic Caucus to Hakeem Jeffries. She blamed ageism and sexism for her defeat.
In 2002, the Peace Abbey in Boston gave Lee the Courage of Conscience Award for her vote against the call to war after the September 11 attacks. In her speech, she said, "let us not become the evil that we deplore."
In 2003, Lee was recognized as a Woman of Peace at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco with Bianca Jagger, Arundhati Roy and Kathy Kelly. In 2010, Lee took the food stamp challenge and also appeared in the documentary film Food Stamped.
In 2014, Lee, Hill Harper, and Meagan Good contributed to Enitan Bereola II's bestselling book Gentlewoman: Etiquette for a Lady, from a Gentleman.
Lee was married before and divorced by the age of 20, raising her two sons as a single parent. They now both work in the insurance industry: Tony Lee is the CEO of Dickerson Employee Benefits, one of the nation's largest African-American owned insurance brokerage/consulting firms, and Craig Lee is a senior executive at State Farm.
A convert to Baptism, Lee married pastor Clyde Oden Jr. on December 31, 2019.
On December 21, 2021, Lee announced she had a breakthrough case of COVID-19 and suffered from mild cold-like symptoms.
In 2014, Lee received endorsements from the California Labor Federation, AFL–CIO, Feminist Majority Political Action Committee, J Street PAC, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Sierra Club, and United Auto Workers.
|California 13th Assembly District Democratic Primary Election, 1990|
|California 13th Assembly District Election, 1990|
|California 16th Assembly District Election, 1992|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||90,432||74.49|
|Peace and Freedom||Emma Wong Mar||6,643||5.47|
|California 16th Assembly District Election, 1994|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||68,197||81.03|
|California's 9th Congressional District Democratic Primary Election, 1998|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||87,389||82.21|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||140,722||82.8|
|Republican||Claiborne "Clay" Sanders||22,431||13.2|
|Peace and Freedom||Gerald Sanders||4,767||2.8|
|Natural Law||Walter Ruehlig||1,975||1.2|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||182,352||85.0|
|Libertarian||Fred E. Foldvary||7,051||3.3|
|Natural Law||Ellen Jefferds||4,214||1.9|
|California's 9th Congressional District Democratic Primary Election, 2002|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||68,550||84.90|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||135,893||81.5|
|Libertarian||James M. Eyer||5,685||3.4|
|independent (politician)||Hector Reyna||(write-in) 6||0.0|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||215,630||84.6|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||167,245||86.4|
|Republican||John "J.D." denDulk||20,786||10.7|
|California's 9th Congressional District Democratic Primary Election, 2008|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||80,466||100.0|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||238,915||86.1|
|Libertarian||James M. Eyer||11,704||4.2|
|Green||David Heller||(write-in) 37||0.0|
|Republican||Christopher Kula||(write-in) 27||0.0|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||180,400||84.27|
|Libertarian||James M. Eyer||4,113||1.92|
|Peace and Freedom||Larry Allen||1,670||0.78|
|California's 13th Congressional District Primary Election, 2012|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||94,709||83.1|
|No party preference||Marilyn Singleton||13,502||11.2|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||250,436||86.8|
|No party preference||Marilyn Singleton||38,146||13.2|
|California's 13th Congressional District Primary Election, 2014|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||77,461||82.6|
|Peace and Freedom||Lawrence Allen||2,190||2.3|
|California's 13th Congressional District Election, 2014|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||168,491||88.5|
|California's 13th Congressional District Primary Election, 2016|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||192,227||92|
|California's 13th Congressional District Election, 2016|
|Democratic||Barbara Lee (incumbent)||293,117||90.8|