Co-chairs' Biographies

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13)

Rep. Barbara LeeCongresswoman Barbara Lee is a forceful and progressive voice in Congress, dedicated to social and economic justice, international peace, and civil and human rights.

First elected in 1998 to represent California’s 9th Congressional District, the Democratic lawmaker has established a reputation for principled and independent stands, unafraid to take on the tough issues and speak her mind for her constituents, for a more just America, and for a safer world. As a social worker by profession, being an advocate for people in dealing with the federal bureaucracy has been a priority.

She has aggressively represented the needs of the underserved and vulnerable people in her district and throughout the U.S., vigorously advocating for a wide range of social and economic concerns and bread and butter issues that affect their daily lives. In 2007, Congresswoman Lee (D-CA) joined with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and Representative Joe Baca of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to form the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus (COPC).  The Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus seeks to bring together lawmakers, organizations, community leaders, and other key stakeholders to find concrete solutions to end poverty.  The COPC is committed to increasing awareness about and finding bi-partisan legislative solutions to eliminating poverty in the United States.

The Congresswoman has been a strong proponent of safe communities, affordable housing, the homeless, low income energy assistance, job training, making health care affordable and universal, just immigration policies, the establishment of a living wage, and protection of the right of women to make decisions about their reproductive health. She is a Senior Democratic Whip, the immediate past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and former co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.

In February of 2011, Congresswoman Lee introduced H.R. 589, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2011.  This legislation would provide 14 weeks of compensation to people who have exhausted their benefits and are still unemployed.  Congresswoman Lee understands that millions of workers across the nation are experiencing a true state of emergency. According to the Economic Policy Institute, for every job opening, there are currently 4.7 unemployed people, many of whom need continued assistance to support their families, make ends meet, and contribute to our economy.  Congresswoman Barbara Lee opposed the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent and continues to support their repeal, believing that we should instead invest in efforts to stimulate the economy, contribute to job growth, and provide pathways out of poverty.

Her accomplishments are many, including authoring or co-authoring every major piece of legislation dealing with global HIV/AIDS issues since she was elected to Congress. This includes legislation that created the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the position of Special Advisor for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. She has secured millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention, education, treatment and care services in Alameda County.

An early and outspoken opponent of the Iraq War, the congresswoman repeatedly proposed legislation seeking early U.S. troop withdrawal. In 2007, she successfully blocked funds from being used to establish permanent military bases in Iraq. Her 2008 amendment requiring that any U.S. agreement to defend Iraq be expressly authorized by Congress or be included in a Senate approved treaty was stripped from a defense bill under the threat of a veto by President Bush.

Congresswoman Lee has been a leader in the bipartisan effort in Congress to end the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, including the passage of legislation she authored to allow divestment from companies doing business in the region.

Congresswoman Lee began her political career as an intern in the office of her predecessor, former Congressman and former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, where she eventually became his Chief of Staff.  Before being elected to Congress, she served in the California State Assembly and in the California State Senate.

Congressman Jim McDermott (WA-07)

Rep. Jim McDermottBorn in Chicago, Jim was the first member of his family to attend college. He graduated from Wheaton College and then attended the Abraham Lincoln School of Medicine at the University of Illinois. After completing medical school and an internship, Jim moved to Seattle to pursue his specialty in psychiatry at the University of Washington Medical Center.

When Jim finished his medical training, he joined the U.S. Navy and fulfilled his military obligation at the Long Beach Naval Station, where he treated soldiers and sailors returning from the Vietnam War.

In 1970, Jim moved back to Seattle to establish his medical practice and involve himself in the community. Shortly after returning, Jim recognized that he could do more to help improve the lives of others as an elected official, and, in 1970, he was elected to the Washington State Legislature. He continued to practice medicine on a part-time basis, and during his time in the Legislature, Jim became an influential member – first as a member of the State House of Representatives (1971-1972) and then as a State Senator (1975-1987).

After more than a decade in the State Senate, Jim decided to leave politics to serve as a U.S. Foreign Service Medical Officer in 1987. Stationed in Zaire, Jim was charged with providing psychiatric services to State Department employees, USAID staff, and Peace Corps personnel throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1988, Jim returned home to run for the U.S. Congressional seat representing the Seattle area. He is now serving his twelfth term, representing the 7th Congressional District of Washington State, which includes Seattle and parts of several neighboring communities.

Jim is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee – Congress’ tax-writing panel (click here for more information about Jim’s committee assignment). During his time in Congress, Jim has worked hard to aid society’s most vulnerable populations – foster children, low-income individuals and families, unemployed Americans, and those confronting major illness or disability.

Throughout his congressional career, Jim has been a fierce advocate for the interests and issues of the greater Seattle region. Flying back to Seattle nearly every weekend of the year, Jim remains deeply involved in the community and maintains close connections with the people he represents.

Jim resides in the city of Seattle and has two grown children and three grandchildren. If he is not hosting or attending meetings and events in Seattle, there is a good chance Jim is reading, painting, gardening, or walking through Discovery Park.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

I am proud to represent Florida's 27th Congressional District, a diverse area which includes Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Hialeah, Key Biscayne, Little Havana, Miami, Pinecrest, South Miami, and Westchester.

I was born in Havana, Cuba on July 1952. At the age of eight, my family and I were forced to flee from the oppressive communist regime of Fidel Castro. We settled in Miami and put down permanent roots in our community. I attended Southside Elementary School in Little Havana, West Miami Junior High, and Southwest High School. In the years following, I earned an Associate of Arts degree from Miami-Dade Community College in 1972, Bachelors and Masters Degree in Education from Florida International University in 1975 and 1985 respectively, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Miami in 2004. I consider education a lifelong journey.

I began my career as a Florida certified teacher. I also founded and served as the principal and teacher of a private bilingual elementary school in Hialeah. I was inspired to enter public service by many of the parents and students; to fight on their behalf for a stronger educational system, lower taxes, and a brighter economic future.

In 1982 I was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives and the Florida Senate in 1986, becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve in either body. In the state legislature I authored the Florida Prepaid College Plan, which is now the largest pre paid college tuition program in the nation. More than one million Florida families have used this program to send their children to college.

I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989-- the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress--following a special election to fill the seat held by the late Claude Pepper. I have been strongly returned to Congress since, winning 60% of the vote in 2012.

To this day, I remain committed to improving the lives of my constituents and our beautiful South Florida community. As the economy remains a pressing issue, I support reducing taxes and cutting back unnecessary government spending. I also support plans to balance the federal budget and increase tax incentives for small businesses and middle class families. South Florida has also felt the devastating effects of the housing crisis. I have fought to end predatory lending practices by mortgage companies and extend the first time homebuyers tax credit.

Given my background in education, I have worked to strengthen the Head Start program. I have also supported legislation to increase the availability to student financial aid and revise the cumbersome and complicated Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) process.

I am a strong advocate of programs that address the serious problem of domestic violence against women. I was a lead sponsor of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which increases resources towards the prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault. I also support legislation to increase criminal penalties for perpetrators of Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud is a deplorable practice which robs hardworking seniors of the benefits they spent a lifetime earning, while also wasting billions in taxpayer dollars.

As the wife of a Vietnam veteran and step-mother to Marine aviators, I am passionate about improving our nation’s military, safeguarding veteran’s health care, and ensuring that returning veterans have access to a college education. I have been an outspoken critic of the Miami VA’s recent failures to notify veterans who were at risk of infection, due to contaminated colonoscopy equipment. I also authored legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). These women pioneers had been denied recognition for their service during World War II.

I am Chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and am now Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. In this role, I continue to voice my strong support for the state of Israel and human rights, including my opposition to Castro’s dictatorial regime in Cuba. I have also led on pressing foreign policy issues including the fight against Islamist extremism, and support of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

I also serve as a member of the House Committee on Rules. This Committee decides what legislation makes it to the House floor and its members are chosen by the Speaker of the House. My priorities as a member of this Committee is to get our nation’s economy back on track and ensure passage of legislation that betters the state of our nation.

I am the proud wife to Dexter Lehtinen, mother and step-mother to 4 adult children, and grandmother to two beautiful baby girls - Morgan Elizabeth and Caroline Grace.