- Democratic Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
- Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Longtime proponent of normalizing U.S. relations with Communist Cuba
- Spoke at the West Coast Socialist Scholars Conference in 1993
- Former member of the Venceremos Brigades
Karen Bass was born on October 3, 1953 in Los Angeles, California. During her high-school and college years, she 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. 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, she 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 in 1989 made the first of her three trips to that country. 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. On one of her subsequent visits to Cuba (June 2011), Bass was accompanied by Democrat strategist Donna Brazile, former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and Center for Democracy in the Americas director Sarah Stephens, whose organization paid Bass’s travel costs of $2,915.
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.
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. Bass is a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In a May 2005 exchange on the Yahoo group AztlanNet News, Los Angeles Communist Party USA organizer Rosalio Munoz revealed the activist connections that he and fellow Communist Leroy Parra had maintained with Bass in the early 1980s. Munoz also stated that Bass had once been a member of the Venceremos Brigades, which Fidel Castro‘s Cuban intelligence agency organized and trained in guerrilla warfare techniques, and which covertly transported hundreds of young Americans to Cuba to help harvest sugar cane and interact with Havana’s Communist revolutionary leadership.
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.
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 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 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 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.”
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.
Further Reading: “Karen Bass” (Keywiki.org, Votesmart.org, KarenBass.com, OnTheIssues.com); “Rep. Bass Applauds Moves to Normalize Diplomatic Relations with Cuba” (Bass.House.gov, 12-17-2014); “Dem. Rep Changes Twitter Picture to Trayvon Martin” (National Review, 7-18-2013); “56 Democrats to Skip Netanyahu Speech to Congress” (The Hill, 2-9-2015); “Democratic Congresswoman: We Need an African American On The Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas Doesn’t Count” (Washington Free Beacon, 2-28-2016); “Karen Bass Accuses Trump Administration of ‘State-Sponsored Child Abuse’” (Daily Caller, 8-3-2018); “Dem Rep. Bass: Silly, Offensive for Trump to Cite Unemployment Stats to Say ‘He’s in Love with African-Americans’” (Breitbart.com, 2-4-2019).