House Dems worry about lack of women of color in leadership
While House Democrats elected to its leadership ranks this week three females, two African-Americans, one Latino, one Asian-American and a member of the LGBT community, one category was missing: women of color.
Two black females, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), both lost their bids for leadership when Democrats huddled for closed-door elections Wednesday and Thursday.
It was an especially bitter pill to swallow for some members, given that the 2018 midterms ushered in the most diverse Congress in history - including a record-breaking number of women.
“It was glaring to us that we didn’t have an African-American female, and yet, black women are the foundation of the party and carried the vote,” Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), who was just elected vice-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a CBC member and young rising star in the Democratic party, just narrowly edged out Lee in the race for caucus chair. The loss was especially disappointing given that Lee, 72, also narrowly lost a bid for caucus vice-chair in 2016.
Meanwhile, Sewell was defeated by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland in the contest for caucus representative - a spot reserved for a member who’s served five terms or fewer.
Other Democrats who won a seat at the leadership table this week include Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), a senior CBC member who will serve as majority whip; Rep. Ben Ray-Luján (N.M.), a hispanic lawmaker who secured the assistant leadership post; Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), a female lawmaker who will lead the House Democratic campaign arm; and Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.), an immigrant from Taiwan who nabbed one of the co-chair slots on the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the first female Speaker of the House, was nominated by her caucus to retake the gavel ahead of the vote in January.
The House GOP, by comparison, elected just one female and no minorities to its leadership ranks.
Still, many Democrats are disappointed not a single woman of color will fill a spot on their own leadership ladder.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the absence of women of color in the leadership ranks means Democrats need to redouble their efforts “to ensure that we have the fully balanced and responsive leadership that entails the faces of all of America.”
“Absolutely, I am concerned,” she said. “I’m delighted with the women; I’m delighted with the people of color; I’m delighted with the men; we have regional diversity, and I think that’s excellent. I applaud that. But we’ll also look to make sure that the face of America is reflected.”
However, not very many minority females ran for leadership positions in the first place.
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), former chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, dropped out of the race for caucus chair after her husband was charged with misusing federal funds. And Rep. Marcia Fudge(D-Ohio), a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, opted not to challenge Pelosi.
“It’s a glaring deficiency, and something that we have to work on,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a Black Caucus member, told The Hill. “Sometimes when you get to these leadership elections, and you have a slew of people who are running, and you start picking, and you get to the end and you tally everything… you realize when you look at everyone’s picture that someone, a demographic, has been left out.”
After her loss, Lee told reporters a variety of factors, including ageism and sexism, likely factored into the results, adding that women of color have an even tougher time overcoming those barriers.
“That is something that women, especially women of color and African-American women, have to fight constantly each and every day,” Lee said. “We still have many glass ceilings to break.”
But a number of CBC women are in line to nab committee and subcommittee gavels in the majority, such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is in line to lead the power Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who will take over the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
And Pelosi agreed to make Fudge the chairwoman of a defunct subcommittee on elections, which had been a top priority for the Black Caucus.
“Hopefully, with us being in the majority, there will be some positions. Sometimes, things are appointed that become bigger than some of the elected offices. I think you’ll see many of us looking for some chairmanships and other leadership roles,” Beatty said.
“I’m interested in a leadership role within our new majority process,” she added. “I’m African-American, I’m female and I’m talented. So lets see what happens.”
Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, cautioned against judging the new leadership team based strictly on identity politics and whether each and every group is represented at the table. Leadership elections, she argued, are more nuanced than that, particularly since so much of a vote hinges on interpersonal relationships between individual members.
“It’s not fair to make a generalization, like, ‘Oh, because you’re a woman of color you’re going to support a woman of color. There’s other factors. In some cases, ideology … We have progressives supporting progressives, personal relationships,” she said.
Barragan said the key to getting more minority women in leadership is simple: bring more of them to Congress.
“The bottom line is we need more women of color in Congress to create more opportunities for them to be in leadership. That’s the bottom line.”
Bustos said that recruiting more women of color to run for office will be a top priority for her when she takes the reins at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
“That is very high on my list of things I want to accomplish over at the DCCC,” she told The Hill.