Friday, January 9, 2009

Barbara Lee sworn in as caucus chairwoman

Rep. Barbara Lee was sworn in as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus at a ceremony Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill.

Lee, D-Oakland, takes the 41-member caucus' reins as its power seems ascendant. Members will lead the House Judiciary, Homeland Security, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means committees in the Congress; Rep. James Clyburn will be the majority whip; and all of them will work in tandem with the nation's first black president, Barack Obama, of whom Lee was an early and ardent supporter.

Lee said while being sworn in that she was thinking about all those who had made it possible: her constituents, her family, African-American leaders such as Shirley Chisholm and Ron Dellums, the caucus' founding members and so on. It was "a very humbling moment," she said.

The caucus' top priority remains "the economy and jobs, the economic stimulus and recovery package we have to put together," which will require expanding what the term "infrastructure" means, Lee said.

"Economic stimulus, infrastructure has got to be not only about building roads and bridges ... but also about building human capacity, the human structure necessary for a health care system that works, for schools that work," she said.

Lee has helped lead the Congressional Black Caucus for six years, first as whip and then as first vice chairwoman. Lee had wanted the chair in 2006 but bowed out to avoid a divisive race against Rep. Carolyn AdvertisementKilpatrick, D-Mich. This time, Lee's bid was unopposed — only the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, had been expressing interest in the post before her unexpected death in August — and the caucus elected her in November.

The Congressional Black Caucus was formed almost 40 years ago with 13 founding members. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums was among those founders and was elected the caucus' chairman at the end of 1988 for the 101st Congress. Lee was a longtime Dellums aide, working her way up through his office's ranks until she was his chief of staff, before serving in the California Legislature and moving on to Congress.

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