Democratic Member of Congress
- Co-chair of the Progressive Caucus
- Former agent of Black Panther leader and convicted killer Huey Newton
- Collaborated with the Marxist dictatorship of Grenada to deceive the U.S. Congress
- Voted against using military force against terrorists following the 9/11 attacks
- Has consistently voted against U.S.-led military actions, regardless of circumstances
- Strong supporter of President Obama’s onetime “green jobs czar,” Van Jones
- Admirer of Fidel Castro
Born as Barbara Jean Tutt in El Paso, Texas on July 16, 1946, Barbara Lee attended Mills College in Oakland, California from 1969-73. During this period, she volunteered for the local Community Learning Center of the Black Panther Party. 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.1 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.
In 1980 Lee provided 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 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.2
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 the “Soviet-Cuban militarization” of the Caribbean. During this period, Barbara Lee joined the U.S.-Grenada Friendship Society, a front group supporting the communist dictatorship of Maurice Bishop. Moreover, in 1983 Lee, aided by her longtime friend Angela Davis, helped coordinate a tour of the West Coast for Grenada’s deputy United Nations ambassador Ian Jacobs, as part of a propaganda offensive “to counterattack President Reagan’s verbal attack on Grenada.”
Lee went on to serve, along with 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.
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) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives.
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. Over the years, Lee has attended numerous PWW banquets, sometimes as a special honoree.
In December 1998, Lee led a five-day, eleven-member congressional delegation to Cuba.
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 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.
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.
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. elections that November.
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.
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.”
In April 2009, Lee was part of a delegation of seven CBC members (among whom was Bobby Rush) who traveled to Havana to meet with former Cuban president Fidel Castro and his successor, Raul Castro. After the meeting, Lee and her cohorts praised the Castros as warm and hospitable hosts, and called for an end to America’s longstanding ban on travel to Cuba.3 Lee described her meeting with Fidel Castro as “quite a moment to behold.” Mark Hemingway wrote in National Review that same month: “Lee’s fondness for the brutal dictator probably stems from the fact that he helped her good friend, Black Panther leader Huey Newton. Accused of killing an underage prostitute, assault, and tax evasion, Newton went to Cuba for three years in the mid-1970s rather than stand trial.” (Lee was also a close friend of Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale.)
On another occasion, Lee praised Fidel Castro for having “led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people.” And after Castro’s death in 2016, Lee said: “We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”
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. For a complete list of Lee’s fellow signatories, click here.
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. For a full list of Lee’s fellow signatories, click here.
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.
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.”
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 al Qaeda financier.
Lee was one of dozens of Congressional Democrats who elected to boycott the January 20, 2017 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.
For an overview of Lee’s voting record on a number of key issues, click here.
For additional information on Barbara Lee, click here.
“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.”
3 “The fifty-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” said Lee. “The bottom line is that we believe its time to open dialogue with Cuba.” Reflecting on her moments with Fidel Castro, Lee said, “It was quite a moment to behold.”