Born as Barbara Jean Tutt in El Paso, Texas on July 16, 1946, Barbara Lee, in her youth, was a single, teenage mother who relied on food stamps. In 1968 she volunteered for the local Community Learning Center of the Black Panther Party, and then attended Mills College in Oakland, California from 1969-73. In 1973 Lee worked on the Oakland mayoral campaign of Panther co-founder Bobby Seale and served as a confidential aide to the organization’s “minister of defense,” Huey Newton. (Panther members at the time referred to Lee as “Comrade Barbara.”) After Newton fled to Cuba in the mid-1970s to evade murder, assault, and tax-evasion charges, Lee she twice visited him there. Decades later, in her 2009 book Renegade for Peace & Justice, Lee fondly recalled her affiliation with the Panthers. “Despite his roughness, my mother really liked him,” Lee wrote of Newton. And regarding Seale, she wrote: “When I first met him, he impressed me as being very nice—a leader always willing to give positive feedback to me and the other ‘comrades’ in the party. I was known as ‘Comrade Barbara’ at the time. We were and remain close.”
After earning a master’s degree in social work from UC Berkeley in 1975, Lee served as a staffer for the openly socialist California congressman Ron Dellums. In 1977 Lee accompanied Dellums on a delegation to Cuba to discuss healthcare issues with Fidel Castro. While still working for Dellums, Lee in 1979 again traveled to Havana, this time to attend a conference of “non-aligned nations”—a Cold War euphemism for countries siding with the Soviet Union. Lee attended the event as a journalist for the alternative San Francisco newspaper, the Sun-Reporter, whose late editor, Carlton Goodlett, had received the Lenin Peace Prize in Moscow in April 1970.
All told, Lee has been to Cuba more than 20 times since the 1970s. For example:
Lee once praised Fidel Castro for having “led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people.”
After Castro’s death in 2016, Lee said: “We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”
In 1980 Lee provided counterintelligence support to the Cuban-backed, Marxist-Leninist regime of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in the Caribbean nation of Grenada, alerting the regime to the possible presence of an anti-communist spy in Bishop’s office.
In 1981 Lee asked the World Peace Council (WPC), which was a Soviet front, to purchase air tickets for Ron Dellums and two of his staffers, so they could attend a WPC conference in Europe. Lee once told The Progressive magazine that her life was influenced greatly by the late Carlton Goodlett, a dedicated Stalinist who served as a leader of WPC and used a newspaper that he owned to spread Soviet disinformation and promote KGB forgeries.
In 1982 Lee accompanied Dellums, who headed the House Sub-Committee on Military Installations and was the ranking Democrat member of the House Armed Services Committee, on a “fact-finding” tour of Grenada. Specifically, Dellums was tasked with gauging, for U.S. government leaders, whether an airport that was being constructed by Soviet bloc advisers in conjunction with Cuban military personnel might pose a military threat to the United States. At issue, in particular, was the fact that the airport was equipped with unusually long runways—long enough to accommodate the needs of Soviet military planes.
Following his inspection, Dellums wrote up a report dismissing the airport’s possible military utility. He then secretly sent the report, through Barbara Lee, to Maurice Bishop, so as to give the communist dictator an opportunity to revise it in whatever way he wished before either Congress or President Ronald Reagan saw it. The minutes of a 1982 Grenada Politburo meeting — attended by Bishop and his military command — state: “Barbara Lee is here presently and has brought with her a report on the international airport that was done by Ron Dellums. They have requested that we look at the document and suggest any changes we deem necessary. They will be willing to make the changes.”
In subsequent testimony to Congress, Dellums said: “It is my thought that it is absurd, patronizing and totally unwarranted for the United States Government to charge that this airport poses a military threat to the United States’ national security.”
Notwithstanding the claims of the Dellums report, in March 1983 President Reagan began to issue warnings about the threat posed to the United States by “Soviet-Cuban militarization” of the Caribbean. His suspicions were borne out when, during the U.S. invasion of Grenada in October 1983, American troops seized documents indicating that the airfield was indeed intended for Soviet and Cuban military purposes.
Author and political commentator David Horowitz has called Barbara Lee “an anti-American communist who supports America’s enemies and has actively collaborated with them in their war against America.”
Starting in the early 1990s, Lee served, along with her friend Angela Davis, on the national coordinating committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, an organization that splintered from the CPUSA in 1991.
In 1997 Lee was one of a number of elected officials to attend a Bay Area banquet sponsored by People’s Weekly World (now known as People’s World), the official newspaper of the CPUSA. She has attended a number of additional PWW banquets over the years, sometimes as a special honoree. On other occasions, Lee has lent her support to the event and its various honorees.
Onetime Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member Nancy Skinner served as a field manager for Lee’s 2002 congressional campaign. That same year, a report by CPUSA political-action-committee chairman Joelle Fishman to the Party’s national board, called on communists to support Lee in her re-election bid.
When Ron Dellums retired from Congress in 1998, Lee won his vacated congressional seat (in California’s 9th District) and has held it ever since. She is a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC, which she chaired from 2009-11) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives.
In April 1998, Lee was a guest speaker at a Berkeley, California event titled “Making Trouble: Building a Radical Youth Movement.” Other speakers included Angela Davis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Hayden, Dolores Huerta, and Cornel West.
On September 14, 2001, Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against anyone associated with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The resolution passed 98-0 in the Senate, and 420-1 in the House.
In 2001-02, Lee supported Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s proposal to create a cabinet-level Department of Peace (DOP) in the executive branch of the federal government. Kucinich envisioned the DOP dealing with such disparate matters as weapons reduction, nuclear disarmament, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, criminal rehabilitation, violence against animals, gun violence, gang and school violence, hate crimes, and the establishment of a “peace curriculum” in the schools.
In June 2002, Lee joined thirty fellow members of Congress (including such notables as John Conyers, Jesse Jackson Jr., Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, and Maxine Waters) in filing a federal lawsuit to block President George W. Bush from withdrawing the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which had been signed in 1972 with the old Soviet Union.
On July 29, 2004, Lee was a guest speaker at a Massachusetts event moderated by Tim Carpenter, national director of Progressive Democrats for America. Titled “Beyond Boston: Building the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party,” this conference also featured such prominent speakers as Tom Andrews, Medea Benjamin, John Conyers, Howard Dean, Tom Hayden, Dennis Kucinich, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jesse Jackson Jr., and James Zogby.
Lee was a guest speaker at the 2006 and 2007 “Take Back America” conferences organized by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF). In June 2010, she spoke at the same IPS-CAF conference, which by then had been renamed “America’s Future Now.” In 2011 Lee spoke at a “Take Back the American Dream” conference, again hosted hosted IPS and CAF.
On July 28, 2010, Lee was a guest speaker — along with such notables as Elijah Cummings and Van Jones — at a Youth Leadership Speaker Series event organized by the 21st Century Democrats. The event was sponsored by Representative John Lewis and Senator Tom Harkin.
In November 2010, Lee and 15 other congressional Democrats met—either personally or through their respective staffers—with supporters of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/FightBack, a Marxist-Leninist group condemning the “FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas” of people who were doing “international solidarity work” and “anti-war” organizing.
Lee’s political campaigns have been supported by such organizations as the Council for a Livable World, EMILY’s List, J Street, the National Iranian American Council, Peace Action, and Planned Parenthood.
On September 3, 2003, Lee introduced H.R. 3000, the United States Universal Health Service Act, which called for governmental provision of healthcare coverage for all Americans. “The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide universal health care,” said Lee. “We must become a health care provider, not a denier of this fundamental right.”
In mid-2004, Lee, distrustful of the integrity of U.S. political elections, was one of thirteen congressional representatives who tried (unsuccessfully) to arrange for the United Nations to monitor the upcoming U.S. presidential election that November.
In 2005 Lee and forty fellow Democratic members of the House of Representatives established the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. The Caucus’s nominal co-founders were Lee, John Conyers, William Delahunt, John R. Lewis, Charles Rangel, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters, and Lynn Woolsey.
In 2008 Lee served as a Western regional co-chair of Senator Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign. She lauded Obama’s “message of fundamental change” for being “as close to a revolutionary message as we have had in decades.”
A strong supporter of the revolutionary communist Van Jones, Lee — a close friend of both Jones and Barack Obama — played a key role in Jones’s appointment as the Obama administration’s “green jobs czar” in 2009.
During her years in Congress, Lee has fought to expand food stamp coverage. In April 2008 she introduced legislation to reverse a provision in the 1996 welfare-reform bill that barred ex-convicts from receiving food stamps.
When the House of Representatives voted by a 345-75 margin to defund the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN in September 2009, Jackson Lee was one of the 75—all Democrats—who voted to continue funding the group.
On December 22, 2009, Lee was one of 33 U.S. Representatives who wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to press the Israeli government to lift its ban on Palestinian student travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
Five weeks later, Lee was one of 54 members of Congress to sign a letter asking President Barack Obama to push Israel to end its Gaza blockade, which had been enacted to prevent the flow of deadly weapons into that region.
In July 2019, Lee was one of 16 House Democrats who voted against a non-binding resolution that opposed the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as an unjustifiable campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. The resolution was voted down by a margin of 398-17.
In April 2013, Lee sponsored a bill stating that climate change could lead to drought and reduced agricultural output in much of the world, and that this would be particularly harmful to women. Said the bill: “[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as [engaging in] sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health.”
In early 2013, Lee was one of dozens of prominent leftists who urged President Barack Obama to award, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late Fred Ross Sr., a Saul Alinsky-trained radical who had mentored both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Lee, along with Representatives Alan Grayson and Jan Schakowsky, was scheduled to meet on November 19, 2013 with Abdul Rahman Naimi, president and founder the Geneva-based human-rights NGO Al Karama, to discuss U.S. drone policy. Ultimately, Naimi was unable to attend the meeting because of visa issues. The following month, the U.S. Treasury Department designated him as a global terrorist and an al Qaeda financier.
Over the years, Lee has received numerous donations from high-ranking officials and/or board members of Islamist organizations. Specifically, from 2002-2016 she received a total of $4,600 in contributions from individuals affiliated with the American Muslims for Palestine, the Muslim Students Association, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In 2016, Lee was a member of the Democratic Party’s Platform Drafting Committee, a highly influential position in setting the party’s priorities and agendas.
Lee was one of dozens of Congressional Democrats who elected to boycott the January 20, 2017 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.
At an April 2018 press conference on Capitol Hill, Lee spoke in favor of continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which, during its most recent fiscal year, had performed more than 321,000 abortions nationwide. “Your work really saves lives,” said the congresswoman.
In November 2018 — after reports that American border patrol agents had fired tear gas at migrants who were pelting them with rocks — Lee called for United Nations inspectors to go the U.S.-Mexico border because “the tear-gassing of women and children at the border is an atrocity” and “a violation of human rights.”
In 2019 as well, Lee supported the Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a massive, multi-trillion-dollar plan designed to move America’s economy toward socialism — under the banner of environmentalist warnings that the Earth would soon face ecological calamity catastrophe if mankind failed to reduce the carbon emissions associated with industrial activity. In April 2019, Lee tweeted: “@AOC [Ocasio-Cortez] is right, we have an expiration date when it comes to climate change. The @UN’s newest report gives us 12 years to turn things around before environmental catastrophe. We need to take climate change seriously. Now”
Also in 2019, Lee — along with Reps. Jan Schakowsky and David Price — introduced, in the House of Representatives, a bill calling for the United States to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal from which President Trump had withdrawn the U.S. in May 2018.
In January 2020, shortly after President Trump had ordered the U.S. military to kill Qasem Soleimani — the longtime leader of the terrorist Quds Force division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps — Lee introduced an amendment to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, the latter of which had been cited by the Trump administration as partial legal justification for the attack on Soleimani. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted 236-166 to approve Lee’s amendment.
For an overview of Lee’s voting record on a number of key issues, click here.