Nearly four full years after the 2016 presidential election, US Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) still can’t bring herself to call Donald Trump her president. Instead, she prefers the phrase “the 45th occupant of the White House,” which she considers to be more factually accurate. It’s also, she argues, a testament to leadership ability, the lack of which has become more pronounced as the country slogs its way through a devastating pandemic that’s halted the economy and put into focus glaring racial disparities in health and everyday life.
On August 6, I chatted with Rep. Lee as she hunkered down on Capitol Hill. Our discussion was part of an ongoing summer series of livestreamed events hosted by Mother Jones with changemakers including Stacey Abrams and Diane Guerrero. When Lee and I spoke, she was gridlocked with Republicans. Congress was trying—and mostly failing—to broker a bailout deal that could provide at least temporary relief to the millions of people in America who’ve lost their jobs and face the imminent threat of being evicted from their homes. In our wide-ranging conversation, Lee reflected on her decades of experience in public service and the life of her dear colleague Rep. John Lewis to paint a picture of real leadership that’s informed, empathetic, and steadfast.
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