After weeks of speculation, California Rep. Barbara Lee formally announced Tuesday that she is entering the race for U.S. Senate to replace retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Lee, 76, would be just the third Black woman to serve in the Senate, following in the footsteps of Carol Moseley Braun, who served a single term representing Illinois in the 1990s, and Kamala Harris. There are currently no Black women in the Senate since Harris left in 2021 to serve as vice president.
"No one is rolling out the welcome mat, especially for someone like me," Lee said in her announcement. “I was the girl they didn't allow in, who couldn't drink from the water fountain who had an abortion and a back alley when they all were illegal."
“I escaped a violent marriage, became a single mom, a homeless mom, a mom who couldn't afford childcare and brought her kids to class with her," she continued. "They didn't want to hear my voice ... anyone who wasn't like them. But by the grace of God, I didn't let that stop me.”
A source told Spectrum News last month that Lee had been discussing joining the race with colleagues at a closed-door Congressional Black Caucus luncheon. The source said that Lee “spoke to Sen. Feinstein" – the 89-year-old California lawmaker who has held the seat since 1992 – about her plans to launch a Senate bid.
Since then, Feinstein, currently the oldest sitting senator, has announced her plans to retire.
Lee joins an already crowded Democratic field for the seat, following announcements from fellow California House Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter. California Rep. Ro Khanna, another name floated to potentially join the Senate race, told Spectrum News that he will "make a decision in early April."
"Barbara’s video today announcing she will run for Senate is a powerful introduction for the issues she has championed her entire career from reproductive rights to her lone no vote against the Afghanistan war," Khanna said in a statement to Spectrum News. "I have said from the beginning that she is a personal hero of mine and I will look at what she does and make a decision in early April. That timeline has not changed."
In her announcement, Lee touted her background of working across the aisle to protect women's rights and LGBTQ rights.
“When there weren't protections for survivors of domestic violence, I wrote California's first Violence Against Women Act," Lee tells a cheering crowd in the video. When it was legal to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, I wrote the hate crimes Reduction Act and got a Republican governor to sign it into law. When no one wanted to talk about global AIDS funding, I got President George W. Bush to make it a priority."
“For those who say my time has passed, well, when does making change go out of style.”
Lee has spoken openly about her experience having an abortion as a teenager at a "back-alley" clinic in Juarez, Mexico, saying the experience shaped her position about reproductive rights.
"I was terrified, naturally traumatized," Lee told Spectrum News last year. "I’ll never forget that evening. It was late at night, and the rest is history."
“I made a personal decision, my mother and myself, to have an abortion, it was nobody’s business, it was a private decision, she said, adding: "After I talked about it publicly, so many women and men came up to me right here in Congress to share their stories, and they are beginning to talk publicly about it. I think it’s important that we empower people and help reduce the stigma."
Lee was notably the only lawmaker to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying that she did not want to give the president a "blank check" to wage an open-ended war.
“However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint," Lee said on the floor of the House ahead of the vote. "Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, ‘Let’s step back for a moment, let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.'"
Lee faced numerous death threats for her stance at the time, requiring her to have around-the-clock security. She ended up featuring as a prominent figure in the anti-war movement, speaking out against the Iraq War and leading efforts to repeal the AUMF.
"I didn't quit when I refused to give the president completely unlimited war powers after September 11," Lee said in her campaign video. "And in the face of countless death threats, I was the only no vote. I didn't quit then, and I won't quit now."
Lee vowed to fight for reproductive rights, addressing climate change, bolstering the middle class and defending U.S. democracy.
"We have to ease the burden on the middle class," she said. "We have to find the solution to poverty and homelessness. We have to take on the climate crisis, and we have to stop these MAGA extremists who think they can control people's bodies and dismantle our democracy.
"And even though there are no African American women in the United States Senate, we won't let that stop us either," she concluded. "Because when you stand on the side of justice, you don't quit. If they don't give you a seat at the table, you bring a folding chair for everyone, and they're here to stay."