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The San Francisco Chronicle

Barbara Lee to Head Congressional Black Caucus

Zachary Coile

Then and now. On the left, Barbara Lee voices her opposition to H.J. Res. 64 after the attacks of Sept. 11. On the right, Incoming Chair, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) holds up a gavel as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Washington - Rep. Barbara Lee was named chairwoman of the Congressional Black
Caucus on Wednesday, giving the Oakland Democrat a high-profile
platform to push her priorities, from increasing funding for HIV/AIDS
to pushing for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, the outgoing chairwoman, Rep.
Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., handed over the wooden gavel and praised
Lee as a "stalwart for human rights, global peace and social justice."
Lee had considered challenging Kilpatrick for the job in 2006, but
bowed out to avoid a divisive caucus fight.

"This is quite a moment for me," a jubilant Lee told reporters and
fellow caucus members. "Now, we have an opportunity to really continue
to lead and to really continue to be the conscience of the Congress."

As chairwoman during the 111th Congress that starts in January, Lee
will take a lead role in pushing the agenda of the 43-member caucus -
known by its acronym, CBC - which has historically been among the more
powerful voting blocs in the House, with immense influence over
legislation, appropriations and even presidential appointments.

Lee, who is stepping down as co-chairwoman of the Congressional
Progressive Caucus, is known for her fierce anti-war stands and
represents one of the House's most liberal districts, including
Oakland, Berkeley, Castro Valley and other parts of the East Bay. She
was the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of
the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which she
criticized as a "blank check."

Lee, 62, dodged questions about her agenda, saying she wants to wait
until caucus members gather in January to decide the group's
priorities. She also downplayed speculation that the caucus will have
more clout under President-elect Barack Obama, a CBC member during his
tenure in the Senate.

Noting Obama's pledge to be president of "the whole country," she
said CBC will be just one of many House caucuses that will seek to
influence Obama.

"We'll work together to support his agenda," she said.

CBC members praised Obama at the news conference for signaling that
he plans to nominate Eric Holder, a former judge and federal
prosecutor, as the nation's first African American attorney general.
Holder, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration,
earned Obama's trust overseeing his search for a vice presidential
nominee earlier this year.

Lee is likely to have little trouble getting her calls to Obama
returned. She was an early supporter of his presidential bid, even
while other senior CBC members backed his primary rival, New York Sen.
Hillary Rodham Clinton. Lee told reporters that she believes Obama
remains committed to a rapid redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq.

"I know he wants to end it," she said. "He was against it from day one. ... We have to see how he wants to do it."

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