- Congresswoman representing the 18th District of Texas, downtown Houston
- Member of the Progressive Caucus
- Member of the Congressional Black Caucus
Sheila Jackson Lee is a Democratic Member of Congress who represents the 18th District of Texas, located in downtown Houston. The population of this heavily Democratic district is 56.5% African-American, 15% Hispanic, and 21.4% white.
Born in January 1950 in Queens, New York, Lee earned an undergraduate degree at Yale University in 1972 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975. She worked as a practicing attorney from 1975-77, and as staff counsel to the U.S. House Select Assassinations Committee from 1977-78.
After moving to Houston, Lee made three unsuccessful attempts at local judgeships before becoming an associate municipal judge from 1987-90. She was elected to the Houston city council in 1990 and served there for four years.
In 1994 Lee ran for Congress. One of her major backers was local executive Kenneth Lay of Enron, later to fall amid a national scandal. She won the Democratic primary and breezed to an easy victory in that November's general election. She has been re-elected every two years since then.
Lee belongs to the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus in the House of Representatives. Americans for Democratic Action consistently rates her voting record as 95-to-100 percent on the left side of legislation.
During her congressional career, Lee has voted:
- against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
- against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
- against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
- against a bill permitting the government to combat potential terrorist threats by monitoring foreign electronic communications which are routed through the United States;
- against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
- against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
- in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
- against President Bush’s 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldifers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
- in favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center;
- against requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment;
- against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America's southern border;
- against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
- against major tax cut proposals in September 1998, February 2000, March 2000, July 2000, May 2001, May 2003, and May 2006;
- against separate welfare reform bills designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- in favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR);
- against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf;
- against a school-voucher proposal in Washington, DC; and
- against ending racial preferences in college admissions (When Texas A&M President Robert Gates announced in 2003 that he was changing his university’s admission preference standard from race to socioeconomic disadvantage, Lee accused Gates of attempting to create an “all-white university.”)
In 2000 Lee joined seven fellow Progressive Caucus members and one Republican in signing a letter that called on President George W. Bush to “de-link” economic sanctions from military sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. This would have allowed Hussein to receive economic aid while refusing to honor his previous agreements to verifiably dismantle his weapons programs.
In 2003, Lee was invited by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to go on a “fact-finding” mission in the Middle East. “Let’s see what he can do,” she said upon returning to the U.S. noting that Assad “even gave us a picture of him and his children.”
According to the AFL-CIO, Lee has a 100 percent pro-union voting record. In 2003 she spoke at a rally in support of organized labor’s Immigrant Worker's Freedom Ride, an effort to liken the unionizing of illegal aliens to the African-American civil-rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.
Lee also has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record, according to the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. In 2003 she voted against banning the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion, and in 2004 she voted against a bill imposing additional criminal penalties for harming a fetus during the commission of a crime against a pregnant woman.
One of Lee's crusades as a Representative of subtropical Gulf Coast Houston has been to end what she calls the government policy of giving hurricanes “lily white” names. “All racial groups should be represented,” she told The Hill Magazine, adding that she hoped the weather establishment in the future “would try to be inclusive of African American names” such as “Keisha, Jamal and Deshawn.”
Among Lee's largest campaign contributors are the American Association for Justice and the Service Employees International Union.
Lee has called for improved relations between the United States and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which she characterizes as a friendly nation. Toward that end, she called (in 2007) for the U.S. to lift its ban on selling F-16 fighter jets and spare parts to Chavez.
Prior to the 110th Congress, Lee served on the House Science Committee and on the Subcommittee that oversees space policy. During a 2005 visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Lee asked a guide whether the Mars Pathfinder had taken a photograph of the flag planted on Mars by Neil Armstrong in 1969. (Armstrong's 1969 mission, of course, was to the Moon, not Mars.)
In 2008 Lee endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for U.S. President. In early 2009 Lee announced that she soon would be leaving Congress to work in the State Department for Mrs. Clinton, whom President Barack Obama had recently appointed as Secretary of State.
In July 2010, Lee wrongly stated, from the floor of the House of Representatives, that North and South Vietnam had managed to forge a peaceful relationship with one another in the years since the Vietnam War. (In fact, South Vietnam ceased to exist on July 2, 1976, when North and South were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.) Said Lee:
"Today we have two Vietnams, side by side, North and South, exchanging and working. We may not agree with all that North Vietnam is doing, but they are living in peace. I would look for a better human rights record for North Vietnam, but they are living side by side."
That same month, Lee spoke at an NAACP meeting where she derided the Tea Party movement as a racist phenomenon, saying:
"All those who wore [Klansman] sheets a long time ago have now lifted them off and started wearing [applause], uh, clothing, uh, with a name, say, I am part of the Tea Party. Don’t you be fooled. [voices: "That's right.", applause] Those who used to wear sheets are now being able to walk down the aisle and speak as a patriot because you will not speak loudly about the lack of integrity of this movement."
In a January 2011 floor debate over a Republican bill (HR2) calling for repeal of the recently passed national healthcare reform legislation, Lee said that such a repeal would violate the Constitution:
“The Fifth Amendment speaks specifically to denying someone their life and liberty without due process. That is what H.R. 2 does and I rise in opposition to it. And I rise in opposition because it is important that we preserve lives and we recognize that 40 million-plus are uninsured. Can you tell me what’s more unconstitutional than taking away from the people of America their Fifth Amendment rights, their Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the right to equal protection under the law?”
Also in 2011, Lee went to the House floor and suggested that Republicans opposed raising the debt ceiling because of racism: “I am particularly sensitive to the fact that only this president, only this one, only this one has received the kind of attacks and disagreements and inability to work. Only this one. Read between the lines. What is different about this president?”
In 2011 Lee denounced congressional committee hearings on Islamic terrorism as “an effort to demonize and to castigate a whole broad base of human beings.” She then lamented that the committee was giving too little attention to “the cold cases of the civil-rights movement,” and she encouraged the committee to hold hearings to determine “whether Klansmen still roam today and terrorize individuals in parts of this country.”
Similarly, when some states promoted and passed Voter ID laws, Lee, characterizing such laws as racist efforts to suppress black turnout at the polls, attributed those efforts to the fact that “we elected the first African American president.”
Also in 2011, Lee went to the House floor to complain about a Pepsi Max commercial that had aired during that year's Super Bowl telecast. In the ad, a black woman throws her soda can at her boyfriend or husband for glancing at an attractive white female jogger; when he ducks, the can hits the jogger, and the couple scurries away. According to Lee, the ad “showed a demeaning role for African American women.”
On February 13, 2013, Lee, arguing that government spending programs were already as lean as they should ever be, exhorted her House colleagues to reach a budget compromise so as to prevent automatic spending cuts through sequestration. "We're at the bone almost," said Lee, "and sequester, that is across-the-board cuts, will literally destroy us and put us in a recession." Lee then suggested that lawmakers should try to emulate the spirit of cooperation that Congress showed during the Civil War: "I stand here as a freed slave because this Congress came together. Are we going to be able to do it today to free America?"
Also in February 2013, Lee honored the hip-hop artist Jay Jenkins, known as “Young Jeezy,” with a “Certificate of Congressional Recognition” for his “outstanding contribution” to the lives of young people through his ”Street Dreamz Foundation.” “Your core values of hard work and integrity has helped improve youth in the Houston community,” said the certificate, which was signed by Lee. The lyrics of Young Jeezy's songs are replete with profanity, including many references to "niggas."
On May 6, 2013, Lee said the following from the floor of the House: "I was very pleased to stand with my fellow Democrats and support the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare].... And I think that what should be continuously emphasized is the president's leadership on one single point -- that although health care was not listed, per se, in the Constitution, it should be a constitutional right. And if you read the words or quote the words of the Declaration of Independence -- 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that we have certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' -- one might argue that education and health care fall into those provisions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
While speaking from the House floor on March 12, 2014, Lee suggested that the U.S. Constitution (which was adopted in 1787) had been written in the early 1600s:
“Maybe I should offer a good thanks to the distinguished members of the majority, the Republicans, my chairman and others, for giving us an opportunity to have a deliberative constitutional discussion that reinforces the sanctity of this nation and how well it is that we have lasted some 400 years, operating under a constitution that clearly defines what is constitutional and what is not.”
Over the course of her political career, Lee has earned a reputation for having both an entitlement mentality and a volatile temper. In 1998, for example, she was accustomed to having an aide drive her daily, in a government-leased car, back and forth between her Capitol Hill apartment and her congressional office one block away. One day she told a staffer who had failed to reserve a limousine: “You don't understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen!”