It has been thirteen years since Congresswoman Barbara Lee cast her lonely vote against authorizing President Bush to launch what she warned could be an ill-defined and endless war. Days after she cast that vote, the California Democrat appeared before hundreds of students at Mills College in Oakland and was greeted for the first time by the chant, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”
At time when media and political elites said Lee had isolated herself politically, she was embraced by Americans who questioned why Congress was not living up to its constitutionally defined responsibility to check and balance the tendency of executives to “blank check” powers for continual warmaking.
So it was, once more, on Tuesday evening, as television screens were filled with reports of airstrikes by the United States and its allies against targets in Syria. Lee appeared at the 2014 convention of National Nurses United in Las Vegas, where she was honored for her championship of peace and justice during the course of her congressional career.
When Lee came to the stage, a thousand nurses spontaneously began to chant, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”
Lee was moved by the recognition, yet during a conversation Tuesday evening she told me that she and other members of Congress should have been in session on Capitol Hill. Instead of debating and voting on issues of war and peace, as the the Constitution requires, Congress fled Washington for the 2014 campaign trail.
Lee is blunt in arguing that this is simply wrong.
As she has for more than a decade, with Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, the congresswoman argues that members of the House and Senate must debate and vote on whether to declare the wars that the United States wages. Along with a handful allies in Congress, some fellow Democratic members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and some “old-right” conservative Republicans such as North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, Lee rejects the argument that resolutions from years ago and votes on amendments to funding measures meet the standard for congressional authorization of new military strikes.
A “gravely concerned” Lee said in a statement that with the news of the expansion of US airstrikes into Syria, in continuation of airstrikes in Iraq, “it is clear we are rapidly becoming more involved in another war in the Middle East.”