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 congressional term, Lee has served since 1998, and is a former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (2009–2011), the current whip and former co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (2005–2009), the Vice Chair and a founding member of the LGBT Equality Caucus. Lee has played a major role in the antiwar movement, notable for her vocal criticism of the Iraq War and for being the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of use of force following the September 11 attacks.
She is is a member of the Democratic Party.
- Now this resolution will pass, although we all know that the President can wage a war even without it. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let's step back for a moment. Let's just pause, just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control. Now I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it today, and I came to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful, yet very beautiful memorial service. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."
- Excerpted from text of 'Barbara Lee, Statement in Opposition to H.J. Res. 64 [The Authorization of Military Force passed after 9/11' American Rhetoric (14 September 2001)
- It’s important that we leave our caucus unified, because it’s Democrats who are going to save the soul of America... You heard and saw what took place (in the race)... That’s something that women, especially women of color and African American women, have to face... That’s nothing new. It’s here, it’s everywhere. But I think we did a great job... We still have many glass ceilings to break.
- Quoted in Rep. Barbara Lee narrowly defeated in bid for House Dem leadership job, by Tal Kopan San Francisco Chronicle (28 Nov 2018)
- God, help has finally arrived. I am telling you, it’s been mighty lonely here... Some people say, ‘Don’t you get tired, or aren’t you going to give up? Wait a minute. I’m a black woman in America. You don’t get tired. You just keep at it until justice is done and until you get the job done.
- Quoted in 'Not so lonely anymore: Barbara Lee no longer a team of one on war powers' by Tal Kopan San Francisco Chronicle (20 July 2019)
- I think you have a convergence, or a confluence, that represents the intersectional nature of where people are in terms of economic security, racial justice, and social justice... There have been a lot of them working on a variety of military budget issues, police issues, justice issues. Now, I think they’re all coming together... it’s clear that people are hurting very badly. And, yet, they are told that “Well, the resources just aren’t there.” And of course we know that Republicans got their tax cuts, but the resources are really also within the Pentagon in terms of their wasteful spending... So I think connecting the two is what is taking place now, as people are suffering and living on the edge in such a profound way... the movement is really pushing the Congress and saying, “We need resources for our domestic priorities and investments in our domestic priorities… You can cut up to 40 or 50 percent out of the Pentagon budget and still have strong national security. So 10 percent is for starters, but it’s great, and I’m so glad we got there—because this $73 or $74 billion is badly needed today in our communities, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface... When you look at polling data, when you look at where people are on military policy and domestic policy—when it comes to making sure that these unauthorized wars, these forever wars, stop—the public is with us.
- Let me tell you one thing on the disparities in the healthcare system: They have been with us since the first enslaved Africans were brought to America 401 years ago. This is nothing new. We’ve been fighting for universal, accessible, affordable healthcare; I mean, Black people have been fighting for this forever.
- The Democratic Party needs to learn that it’s got to be inclusive and democratic, which means listening to different points of view from young people, from the Movement for Black Lives, from our Dreamers, from all of our young people throughout the country—and to know that even though their proposals may be bold and different and visionary, hey, you’ve got to embrace visionary and bold ideas now if you really want systemic change.
- Quoted in Representative Barbara Lee: ‘The Public Is With Us’, by John Nichols, The Nation, (11 August 2020)
- Kamala should be president...We know how to lead... We know how to help regain the soul of America. And we have our unique history in this country to be able to lead out of the White House as president and vice president.
- Among my top priorities on this committee will be investing in diplomacy, foreign assistance, and development programs, which must be at the forefront of our approach, leaving behind the military first approach of the last 4 years... It’s also critical that we reinvest in the State Department and work to ensure our diplomatic corps and all aspects of our international affairs reflect the diversity of the country... This is a critical time for global investment and cooperation as we fight back a global pandemic, and we have much work to do.
- Quoted in Congresswoman Barbara Lee Becomes First African American To Chair Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, CBS SF Bay Area, (25 January 2021)
Speech in Congress, September 14, 2001
- Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and loved ones who were killed and injured in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Only the most foolish or the most callous would not understand the grief that has gripped the American people and millions around the world. This unspeakable attack on the United States has forced me to rely on my moral compass, my conscience, and my God for direction. September 11 changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. I know that this use-of-force resolution will pass although we all know that the President can wage war even without this resolution. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. There must be some of us who say, let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today-let us more fully understand their consequences. We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. This crisis involves issues of national security, foreign policy, public safety, intelligence gathering, economics, and murder. Our response must be equally multifaceted. We must not rush to judgment. For too many innocent people have already died. Our country is in mourning. If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that woman, children, and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire. Nor can we let our justified anger over these outrageous acts by vicious murderers inflame prejudice against all Arab Americans, Muslim, Southeast Asians, and any other people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity. Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes. In 1964, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to “take all necessary measures” to repel attacks and prevent further aggression. In so doing, this House abandoned its own constitutional responsibilities and launched our country into years of undeclared war in Vietnam. At this time, Senator Wayne Morse, on e of the two lonely votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, declared, “I believe that history will record that we have made a grave mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United StatesŠI believe that with the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.” Senator Morse was correct, and I fear we make the same mistake today. And I fear the consequences. I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it in the very painful yet beautiful memorial service today at the National Cathedral. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, ” As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.”
Quotes about Barbara Lee
- Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee was narrowly defeated Wednesday in her bid to break into House Democratic leadership, a loss she blamed on barriers for women of color. Democratic incumbents and incoming members who were elected this month voted behind closed doors for New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries over Lee for party caucus chair. The vote was 123 to 113. The contest for the Democrats’ No. 5 job pitted the progressive Lee, who would have been the first African American woman elected to the House hierarchy of either party.. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said... members should have the “courage” to make their votes public. “It was very disappointing... because I think Barbara Lee has shown extraordinary leadership in her career... It’s about time that we have to say what we mean and mean what we say, which means rather than have secret ballots we should have public ballots... Because there’s this game that some of my colleagues play where they say one thing to one member and then say something to another member.”
- Rep. Barbara Lee narrowly defeated in bid for House Dem leadership job, by Tal Kopan San Francisco Chronicle (28 Nov 2018)
- She’s involved in the weeds of policy, she’s a coalition builder, she has respect for the institution, and yet is a change-maker,” he said. “She’s really someone who could be a role model to frankly a lot of the next generation of the members of Congress.”
- Ro Khanna quoted in 'Not so lonely anymore: Barbara Lee no longer a team of one on war powers' San Francisco Chronicle (20 July 2019)
- She was...the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing the United States to go to war. It earned her death threats and tens of thousands of pieces of hate mail. But nearly 20 years later, her Democratic colleagues and advocates call it one of her most prescient and career-defining votes, as Congress comes closer to finally achieving her goal: repealing the blank check she believes lawmakers gave to presidents to wage war in the name of fighting terrorism.
- Tal Kopan, 'Not so lonely anymore: Barbara Lee no longer a team of one on war powers', San Francisco Chronicle, (20 July 2019)
- Lee said she was all for responding to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people, but worried the authorization was too open-ended and was being rushed through Congress at an emotional time. Trained in psychiatric social work, Lee said she knew that “when you’re angry, when you’re sad, when you’re emotional, when you’re frustrated ... you don’t make hard decisions. That’s Psychology 101.”
In a speech on the House floor, Lee implored her colleagues to “just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.” Her plea went unheeded.... The first call she received after the vote was from her father, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who told her always to look for alternatives to putting American troops’ lives at risk. “He told me, ‘That was the right vote, and you’re going to catch hell, but stand strong. You’re doing this for our troops, you’re doing this for the country,’” Lee said.
- 'Not so lonely anymore: Barbara Lee no longer a team of one on war powers' by Tal Kopan, San Francisco Chronicle, (20 July 2019)
- U.S. Representative Barbara Lee took a decidedly radical woman-of-color position when she stood alone among the members of Congress to state her opposition to war in western Asia. She was one individual Black American woman refusing to fall prey to U.S. patriotic propaganda. If we take the idea of democracy at its word, it obligates my congressional representative and myself, as women of color, to protest not only this war but also the conditions that helped create it: namely, U.S. foreign policy.
- Cherríe Moraga A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness (2011)
- Her lonely (2001) vote and her standing there was something that impacted me when I was in middle school, high school. It was our generation that was sent to war. ... The weight of those decisions is very much on our shoulders. And highlighting that, her exhibiting her courage in that moment, it certainly comforts me in moments I cast lonely votes.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quoted in 'Not so lonely anymore: Barbara Lee no longer a team of one on war powers' San Francisco Chronicle (20 July 2019)
- On September 14, 2001, three days after New York City’s Twin Towers were leveled by two hijacked airliners... Congress met to consider President George W. Bush’s request to wage war against the perpetrators. On the floor of Congress, speaker after speaker echoed the hurt, outrage, anger, and shock of a wounded nation. A flood of countrywide sentiment demanded action. Every single member of Congress—the House and the Senate—concurred. Almost. The vote in the House on the expanded wars act was 420 to 1. At this time of crisis, when there was much pain alongside many acts of heroism, one stood alone. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California’s 13th District... voted against war. As Lee addressed Congress that fateful day, she spoke from her conscience, from her heart. She warned... “Let us not act so that we become the evil that we deplore.” ...For her calm, measured act of reason, which proved prescient, Lee received a torrent of harsh criticism, cruel words, and death threats. For the following weeks, she had to be blanketed by Secret Service agents for protection... This singular, lonely act of courage helped define Congresswoman Barbara Lee. But it should not overshadow a remarkable life and exemplary career both before and after her stand alone.
- “We know how to lead,” Lee said of Black women in the Democratic party, and beyond. “We know how to help regain the soul of America..." When Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president this spring, he vowed to choose a woman to be his number two. Multiple candidates at the top of his short list were women of color. Black women are a demographic that’s powered the Democratic Party for decades—its “backbone,” Lee said. “Enough is enough. We’re here to stay. So just shut up.”
- Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was named the Chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Affairs (SFOPS), on Monday. Chairwoman Lee is the first African American to serve as chair to the powerful committee, which has jurisdiction over the country’s nondefense international affairs. She says she will focus on reinvesting in the State Department.
- Quoted in Congresswoman Barbara Lee Becomes First African American To Chair Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, CBS SF Bay Area, (25 January 2021)
- As military historian and retired career officer Andrew Bacevich notes, “... US troops are still present in something like 140 countries; Pentagon and national security state spending continues to increase astronomically.” When the National Defense Authorization Act for the next fiscal year came before Congress this summer, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed a modest 10 percent reduction in military spending so $70 billion could be re-directed to domestic programs. Representative Barbara Lee introduced a House resolution calling for $350 billion worth of DOD cuts. Neither proposal has gained much traction, even among Democrats on Capitol Hill. Instead, the House Armed Services Committee just voted 56 to 0 to spend $740.5 billion on the Pentagon in the coming year...
- Patriotic Dissent: How a Working-Class Soldier Turned Against “Forever Wars”, by Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon, CounterPunch, (24 July 2020)