Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has begun talking to fellow Democrats about running for chair of the House Democratic Conference, the leadership role held by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).
“I was not seriously considering this until Tuesday night,” Lee said. “If this were not an open seat, I’d be making a different calculation. But things move fast around here, and I didn’t want to wait until November to start looking at this.”
Crowley, who began his career as a pro-business New Democrat, was defeated Tuesday by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after a primary that highlighted her left-wing views and his donations from wealthy developers. Lee, who like Crowley was first elected in 1998, has often been at the far left of the congressional party; famously, she was the only member of Congress to vote against authorization of military force after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I could bring a vision to this job based on my work with different caucuses — my time as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, my record with the Congressional Black Caucus,” Lee said. “The majority of the country wants to see Democrats unified, but speaking with one voice on health care, affordable housing, fair wages and climate change.”
The 72-year-old Lee ran for vice chair of the Democratic conference, losing by one vote to Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.). In that campaign, Lee said, she attracted the support of some conservative Democrats who broke with her on policy but “knew I don’t demonize people if they don’t agree with me” and because she has a portfolio that includes foreign policy.
If Crowley stays in his role through the end of the year, the vote for his job — and all House leadership jobs — would take place shortly after November’s midterm elections. Nearly two dozen Democrats running for swing seats have said that they would favor a change in leadership; Ocasio-Cortez told The Washington Post last week that she, too, would not commit to supporting Nancy Pelosi if Democrats won control of the House and Pelosi was seeking to become speaker.
“Is Barbara Lee available?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
Lee, however, emphasized that she is interested only in the role of Democratic Conference chair. No black woman has ever been elected to the leadership team of either party.