Rep. Barbara Lee on Women in the Democratic Party - Rolling Stone
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‘It’s Past Time’: Rep. Barbara Lee on Black Women in Democratic Power

A candid conversation with the California Democrat about the future of her party

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), 2014U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), 2014

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) addresses the audience at the 10th anniversary leadership gala of the Friends Of The Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, December 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Allison Shelley/Getty Images for Friends of the Global Fight

A record 102 women were elected to the House of Representatives this cycle — close to half of them women of color — and Democrats made massive gains, many in close elections that were decided by female voters. 2018 is, indisputably, the year of the woman — you just wouldn’t know it by looking at the Democratic House leadership where the lone woman, Nancy Pelosi, is fending off calls to pass the torch to a younger generation while the men she’s groomed or installed around her — Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, Ben Ray Luján — seek reelection to high-ranking leadership positions.

Progressive stalwart Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is looking to pull up a seat at the table with her bid for the No. 5 position in the House, Democratic Caucus Chair.

“There’s never been an African-American woman in leadership, and we’re the most consistent and loyal voters, and it’s time,” Lee tells Rolling Stone. “It’s past time.”

Exit polls indicate that 92 percent of black women backed Democrats in 2018 — a higher share than any other group of voters. (Seventy-three percent of Latina women voted for Democrats, while white women were split 49-to-49 in 2018.)

With women representing such a high share of Democratic voters (59 percent of women voted blue in 2018) and with so many “competent females,” to borrow a phrase from Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), among the party’s ranks, some fault Pelosi for failing to help bring more of them into the leadership fold. According to a Democratic Hill aide, there are rumors that Pelosi is quietly backing a bid from Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) — who jumped in the race last week, months after Lee announced — over Lee, a fellow woman and Californian.

Lee doesn’t want to speculate on why Jeffries jumped in late.

“You’d need to talk to him about that,” she says. “I am really focused on counting my votes.” Nor does Lee want to argue over who is responsible for the lack of women in Democratic leadership, but she’s happy to point out that there are plenty of women in key committee posts ready and poised for such positions.

“When you look at those pathways into leadership, you see women everywhere! We just haven’t had a woman [other than Pelosi] as one of the top five elected leaders, and that’s what I’m running for, and I think it would strengthen the Democratic Caucus to have a woman, and a woman of color, as the number five slot.”

For what it’s worth, Lee is not among of the members who is calling for Pelosi’s ouster. She tells Rolling Stone she is not inclined to back Rep. Marcia Fudge if Fudge does indeed enter the race. Instead, Lee sees Fudge’s prospective bid as a stronger argument for her own.

“The point that an African American woman needs to be in leadership is the point that [Fudge] is making — and that’s absolutely correct.”

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