Karen Bass was born on October 3, 1953 in Los Angeles, California. In their 2010 book, Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities, progressive authors Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramon write that Bass, in a 2008 interview, provided them with many details about her days as a student at Alexander Hamilton High School on the Westside of Los Angeles. The authors quote Bass as having told them:
“It [the white Left] played a huge role for me. In Hamilton [High School] for example, a lot of the Jewish parents were activists and some of them were in the Communist Party. And so I grew up with a lot of red diaper babies [a slang term for children whose parents were members of the Communist Party USA during the Cold War]. And there were some African American parents who were in the Communist Party. There were teachers who were in the Communist Party. So, white radicals were very influential. And at the same time you have the [Black] Panthers and the whole black movement.”
During her high-school and college years, Bass volunteered to work on political campaigns and was active in the civil-rights and anti-war movements. In 1968 she served as a precinct captain for Robert Kennedy’s presidential run.
In 1973, Bass began a long-term involvement with the Venceremos Brigade (VB), a Cuban Communist front group founded in 1969 by Fidel Castro and the radical members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and administered by the Cuban intelligence service, the General Directorate for Intelligence (DGI). Portraying itself as a well-intentioned group of volunteers dedicated only to helping poor Cubans harvest sugar cane, VB’s real purpose was, as bestselling authors and political commentators David Horowitz and Peter Collier explained in their 2005 book Destructive Generation: “to meet Cuban and Vietnamese officials in Havana to map out strategies for the war in America, the ‘other war,’ which would ultimately defeat the United States in a way that the battlefield situation in Vietnam never could have.” Said Horowitz in a later interview with Breitbart.com: “The big propaganda was that the [American] imperialists had made Cuba a one-crop country, which was sugar cane. And under Castro the production of sugar cane went down dramatically. And so they called on American volunteers to help them harvest sugar cane. But they also trained them politically.” That training included, among other things, instruction in the use of arms, explosives, and guerrilla warfare techniques.
During a 1972 House Subcommittee hearing, an undercover American police deputy who had applied to join the VB testified about the vetting process through which he had been put. “To be a member of the brigade, you had to be confirmed as a Marxist‐Leninist,” he said, adding that admittance to the VB required applicants to fill out detailed paperwork, undergo interviews regarding their political beliefs, and attend twice‐a‐week indoctrination sessions for three‐and‐a‐half months.
A 1976 FBI report stated that the long-term objective of the Cuban intelligence officials who ran the Venceremos Brigade was: “the recruitment of individuals who are politically oriented and who someday may obtain a position, elective or appointive, somewhere in the U.S. Government, which would provide the Cuban Government with access to political, economic and military intelligence.”
During the Seventies, Bass personally made eight trips to Cuba as a “brigandista.”
In November 1983, the Los Angeles Police Department revealed that its Public Disorder and Intelligence Division had been surveilling the activities of a number of left-wing organizations and activists, one of whom was Karen Bass.
In the 1980s, Bass was affiliated with Line of March, a Maoist organization that aligned itself with the New Communist Movement, which in turn was a Maoist initiative inspired by international Communist movements in Cuba, Vietnam, and especially China. Line of March was founded in 1980 in Oakland, California, by the Communist and political activist Irwin Silber, who considered the Communist Party insufficiently radical for his taste. Line of March’s members carried out their activities in a deliberately clandestine manner and called themselves “rectificationists.” As David Horowitz explains: “’Rectificationists’ is like reeducation camps in Maoist China…. If [Bass] was part of a rectification movement, she’s a Maoist.” Breitbart News elaborates: “In the 1940s, China’s communist leader Mao Zedong waged a ‘rectification’ campaign to solidify his power and enforce obedience and loyalty to his commands. Among the rectification tactics he used was ‘thought reform’ via ‘study groups’ where dissenters were isolated and attacked into submission.”
After earning a BS in Health Services from California State University in 1990, and an MA in a Physician’s Assistant (PA) Program at the Keck School of Medicine, Bass went on to work as a PA for nearly a decade. She was also a project director for the Health Careers Opportunity Program from 1986-90, and an adjunct instructor at Cal State from 1989-96.
A longtime proponent of normalizing U.S. relations with Communist Cuba, Bass traveled to that nation in 1989. Soon thereafter, in a May 19, 1989 guest appearance on the KPFK Radio program Voices of the Left: A Socialist Perspective, she discussed her observations and opinions regarding life under Fidel Castro.
In 1990 Bass founded the Community Coalition, a Los Angeles-based social justice group, to help “shift the policy agenda” vis-à-vis the war on drugs “away from law enforcement [and] toward a public health and economic response.” She went on to serve as the group’s executive director until 2003.
In the aftermath of the deadly April 1992 riots that erupted in Los Angeles following a widely publicized police beating of a drug-impaired, belligerent motorist named Rodney King, Bass encouraged local foundations as well as businesses and community leaders to invest in grassroots, community-based activist groups as a means of addressing the societal injustices that allegedly were the root causes of the black rage that had fueled the riots.
In April 1993 Bass spoke at the West Coast Socialist Scholars Conference, held at UCLA.
In 2000 Bass was a Los Angeles School Board member. Also in the the early part of that decade, she served on the advisory board of the Progressive Los Angeles Network, an organization whose leadership and agendas were controlled largely by the Democratic Socialists of America.
In 2004 Bass was elected to the California State Assembly, where she would eventually rise to the position of Speaker four years later.
After serving six years as a member of the California State Assembly, Bass in 2010 was elected to succeed the retiring Diane Watson as the Congressional Representative for California’s 33rd District. She continues to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, though in 2013 her district was renumbered as the 37th. Geographically, it includes all or parts of South Los Angeles, Mid-City, Culver City, and Palms.
In September 2009, Bass co-hosted the Council on American-Islamic Relations‘ 6th Annual Ramadan Iftar dinner — the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset — inside the Capitol Rotunda in Sacramento, California.
At an April 24, 2010 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a newly opened Church of Scientology facility in Los Angeles, Bass told the 6,000 attendees: “This day and this new Church of Scientology is an exciting moment because I know your goal and your commitment is truly to make a difference. The Church of Scientology I know has made a difference, because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere. The words are exciting of your founder, L. Ron Hubbard, in The Creed of the Church of Scientology: that all people of whatever race, color or creed, are created with equal rights. It’s a remarkable credit to your church that this is part of your creed.”
In November 2011, Bass submitted a letter that was read at the opening of yet another Scientology center in South Los Angeles. In that letter, the congresswoman praised the church for its “many humanitarian initiatives and social betterment programs for the benefit of South Los Angeles.”
A 2020 Los Angeles Times review of Bass’s financial disclosures found that between 2008-10, her State Assembly campaign committees paid a total of $97,000 to the Community Coalition, the non-profit organization Bass had established in 1990. Then, in 2010, the Community Coalition paid Bass a total of $70,500 in fees for her work as a “consultant.” The Times breaks down those fees as follows:
“The Community Coalition directly paid Bass $26,500 to help it do research and appear in a short video to mark its 20th anniversary. Bass collected an additional $44,000 through a Community Coalition contract with Jemmott Rollins Group, a nonprofit consulting firm, to help devise fundraising strategies for community groups devastated by the Great Recession, according to a House filing and to Frances Jemmott, chief executive of Jemmott Rollins.”
Notably, that was the only consulting income which Bass received between 2003 and 2018. According to Kirk O. Hanson, senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, such income “creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.” “It’s not a good idea to receive substantial income from organizations that are supported by contributions from your campaign fund,” Hanson told the Times. “It creates an appearance of a conflict of interest, that you have converted campaign funds into personal income.”
Bass traveled to Cuba in June 2011, accompanied by Democrat strategist Donna Brazile, former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) director Sarah Stephens, whose organization paid Bass’s travel costs of $2,915.
In early 2013, Bass joined numerous left-wing activists and political figures aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America in urging President Barack Obama to award, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late radical organizer Fred Ross (1910-92). Trained by Saul Alinsky, Ross had been a mentor to both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. He also had helped elect Communist Party USA affiliate Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’s first Latino council member in 1949.
Viewing the United States as a nation awash in white racism, Bass was outraged in July 2013 when a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman—the “white Hispanic” man who had infamously shot and killed a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin in an altercation 17 months earlier—of murder and manslaughter charges. In a show of solidarity with the dead teen, Bass changed her Twitter avatar to a photo of Martin. She called the jury verdict “devastating” and wrote: “We cannot be silent when a teenager is needlessly profiled, harassed & gunned down by those who choose to take law into their own hands. We must keep working tirelessly to end racial profiling & ensure that the application of the law is equitable, just & fair for everyone.”
In April 2013, Bass attended a summit hosted by the Final Call, the official communications organ of Louis Farrakhan‘s Nation of Islam (NOI). She also appeared alongside Tony Muhammad, the director of NOI’s Western Division, at NOI events in 2014 and April 2015, the latter of which was an anti-police-brutality rally that also featured a speech by Mauluna Karenga. Moreover, Bass once posed with Muhammad in a photo that was subsequently posted online by former Fox News host Mablean Ephriam. And during an April 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, Muhammad praised Bass and another California Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters, for their strong support for Farrakhan: “I have to say, I thank God for Maxine Waters and Congresswoman Karen Bass…. Minister Farrakhan will take a call from a Maxine Waters or Karen Bass.”
In December 2014, Bass was part of a seven-person congressional delegation to Havana, Cuba, a trip sponsored by Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba. The other members of the delegation were Representatives Michael Burgess, Danny Davis, Diana DeGette, Robin Kelly, Barbara Lee, and Charles Rangel.
In January 2015, Bass objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his “profound disagreement” with the nuclear deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. Bass was one of numerous Black Caucus members who boycotted the speech.
In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, Bass, implying that Justice Clarence Thomas was not an authentic black, suggested that Scalia’s replacement should be black, so as to give the Court an “African-American voice” which she said was lacking. “I think many people would like to see an African American on the Supreme Court,” Bass said. “We don’t really need to go into Clarence Thomas’ background or his behavior on the Court, but I think to have an African-American voice that has definitely not been there since Thurgood Marshall would really be an incredible contribution to our country.”
In March 2016, Bass joined 16 other House Democrats as well as President Barack Obama in a trip to Cuba. The trip was a symbolic move toward increased normalization in U.S.-Cuba relations.
In the wake of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s death in November 2016, Bass referred to Castro as “Comandante en Jefe” (“Commander in Chief”) and called his passing “a great loss to the people of Cuba.”
Speaking from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 30, 2017, Bass eulogized her “friend and mentor” Oneil Cannon, who had served as the Communist Party USA’s education director in the Southern California District, and also as a member of the Party’s Southern California and National Central Committees.
In January 2018, Bass was part of a bipartisan congressional delegation to Cuba, where the delegates met with Cuban officials to assess the impact of recent U.S. policies on the Cuban people, and to explore possible areas for future collaboration between the two countries. The delegation was led by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
In an August 2018 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked Bass if family separations carried out by border patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border amounted to “kidnapping” or “abuse of children.” Bass replied: “We are taking [the children] away and then may or may not reunite them. But you know that we’re charging the parents. So for example, if you get deported there are examples of parents who are told, you have to pay $1,500 because we’re going to fly your kid home along with a chaperone. Now that’s a lucky parent that actually knows where their child is. So this is state-sponsored child abuse.” Specifically, Bass was condemning the so-called “zero tolerance” policy by which the Trump administration, in response to the rapidly growing number of illegal aliens showing up with their children at America’s southern border, had been prosecuting every illegal border crosser for the crime of entry without inspection. As the Center for Immigration Studies explained:
“After detaining the parents, the government could either put the children in a shelter (due to legal prohibitions on keeping children in detention for over 20 days), or release the entire family into the interior of the country — ‘catch-and-release’ — and hope that they don’t simply disappear into the illegal immigrant population. The first of these two options has been decried by critics as one of ‘family separation’.”
In February 2019, Bass denounced President Trump’s claim that his economic policies had done a great deal to help black Americans. Said the congresswoman:
“Well, let me just tell you that we just finished in the Congressional Black Caucus doing a poll, and if he thinks he has support in the African-American community, let me tell you, it is in the low single digits. It is so offensive to me when he talks about the employment rate in the African-American population. He had nothing to do with that. It’s not as though he had some jobs program and that led to a decrease in African-American unemployment. If he wants to give credit anywhere, he needs to give credit to the Obama administration that kept us from having a disaster in our economy, and the economy was getting much better when he took office. He had absolutely nothing to do with the African-American employment, and he needs to stop using that to say that he’s in love with African-Americans. It’s silly, and it’s offensive.”
In December 2019, while Democrats were preparing articles of impeachment against President Trump, Bass stated that she would be willing to impeach Trump a second time if he were to win reelection in 2020. Laying out a scenario in which Trump won a second term but Democrats took over the Senate from the Republicans, TMZ founder Harvey Levin said: “There’s no such thing, really, as double jeopardy in an impeachment trial because it’s political. Suppose he gets reelected… and you win back the Senate in a big way. If you did that, would you be inclined to take a second bite at the apple and reintroduce the exact same impeachment articles and then send it through again a second if you have a Democratic Senate on your side?” Bass replied:
“So, you know, yes, but I don’t think it would be exactly the same and here’s why, because even though we are impeaching him now, there’s still a number of court cases, there’s a ton of information that could come forward. For example, we could get his bank records and find out that he’s owned 100 percent by the Russians. You are absolutely right in your scenario, but the only thing I would say slightly different is, it might not be the same articles of impeachment because the odds are we would have a ton more information, and then the odds of that, sadly enough, is that, you know, he probably has other examples of criminal behavior.”
On September 27, 2021, Bass announced that she was running for mayor of Los Angeles in the upcoming election on November 8, saying in a statement: “Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency. I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis. With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this — together. I’m running for mayor.”
Until the election, Bass would divide her time between the mayoral campaign and her duties in Washington.
During her tenure in Congress, Bass has voted against permitting oil drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf; against barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases; against maintaining a work requirement for welfare recipients; and against reauthorizing the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher initiative which was designed to enable the parents of poor, inner-city children in Washington to send their youngsters to private schools rather than to DC’s abysmal public schools.
For an overview of Bass’s voting record on a broad array off key issues, click here.
Bass formerly served as a board member of the Liberty Hill Foundation.