Who is Karen Bass?

Who is Karen Bass?
Source: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Ever since former Vice President Joe Biden stated that he would select a woman to be his running mate, there has been rampant speculation about who could become the first female vice president in the history of the United States.

Among the biggest names bandied about for the position are those of Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, but not every woman on the list has as high a profile as those former presidential candidates.

House Representative Karen Bass of California has been mentioned in recent days as a front-runner for the position. Bass, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), could be a savvy political pick. However, her extensive career in public service shows that there is much more that warrants Biden to consider her.

The early life of Karen Bass

California Representative Karen Bass grew up in the Venice and Fairfax neighborhoods of Los Angeles. She was born in 1953 to DeWitt and Wilhelmina Bass and has three brothers. Karen credits her father, who was born in the American South, for turning her into a “news junkie” when she was young and fostering her interest in the Civil Rights movement.

At 14, Bass volunteered for the 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy was a staunch advocate for civil rights and was a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president before being assassinated in June 1968 while on the campaign trail.

After graduating from Hamilton High School, Bass studied at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Bass followed up her bachelor’s degree by studying in the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program.

Her pre-political life included being a Physician Assistant and a nurse, as well as instructing in the USC program from which she graduated. Bass was also involved in community activism, with a specific focus on the crack cocaine epidemic. In 1990, Bass started the south LA Community Coalition to help local communities of color address issues related to drug abuse, crime and poverty.

Bass married Jesus Lechuga in 1980, but the two divorced in 1986. Together, they had one daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga. Emilia died in a car accident in 2006. Bass has also been involved in raising four of Lechuga’s children.

Karen Bass’ state politics

Bass first ran for political office in 2004, campaigning – and winning – as the Democratic candidate for the 47th District of the California State Assembly. Her successful campaign relied on her history of community activism, which, in addition to the Community Coalition, included serving on the LA City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Gangs, Youth and Violence and other community groups.

In 2008, Bass became the first Black woman to serve as the Speaker of the California Assembly. Due to strict term limits, her time in the position was limited to two years. Immediately following her time as speaker, she set her sights on the US House of Representatives.

While she won her 2010 election, Bass’ transition to national politics was not a completely smooth one. She was criticized in hometown reporting for failing to appear at 60% of Assembly sessions and collecting per diem payments while she campaigned. Bass also took heat for voting to raise the salaries of Assembly staffers amid the 2008 financial crisis.

Nonetheless, her career of community service, as well as her political connections to then-President Barack Obama, brought her victory in her first national election.

US Representative Karen Bass

As a member of the House – first representing California’s 33rd District, now the 37th District – Bass has been a reliably left-leaning vote. She is one of the chamber’s most liberal members, with a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood. She holds only an 11% rating from the conservative Freedom Works advocacy group.

Bass is currently the Chair of the bipartisan Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She also chairs the House Committee on the Judiciary’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Since President Donald Trump took office, Bass has rarely voted for his agenda, only voting in line with Trump 8.5% of the time. After the Democrats took back control of the House in the 2018 midterm election, her opposition to Trump’s agenda grew even more pronounced. She has only voted for President Trump’s policies 3.9% of the time since 2019, which includes a vote for COVID-19 relief.

Karen Bass for vice president?

On July 31, CNN reported that Bass was among multiple women garnering serious consideration as Biden’s running mate for his 2020 presidential campaign. With Biden said to be in the “last stage” of the decision-making process, Bass joins the ranks of numerous other politicians with higher profiles – among them, Harris, Warren and former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

That lower profile may help her chances of getting the nod – assuming she wants it – because she doesn’t have the political baggage that some of the other candidates do. Reports indicate that Bass is supported by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Also, as a Black politician with a history of bipartisan cooperation, she is considered a “safe political choice” for the current moment.

By all indications, Bass appears to be the candidate who would stir up the least amount of controversy for the Biden campaign. However, since emerging as a front-runner for the position, some of her past public remarks have come under scrutiny.

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace on August 2, Bass walked back praise of now-deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In 2016, after Castro’s passing, Bass said his death was “a great loss to the people of Cuba.” She told Wallace on Sunday that her views on Castro had “developed” and she called Castro’s government a “brutal regime.” Bass also previously traveled to Cuba in the 1970s.

On Saturday, Politico reporter Alex Thompson tweeted a video of Bass speaking at a ribbon-cutting event for a Scientology church in 2010. In the video, Bass praises the words of Scientology founder L. Round Hubbard who, she says, wrote in the religion’s creed, “All people of whatever race, color or creed are created with equal rights.”

Thompson acknowledges in the related thread that Scientology plays a major role in LA and so it would be natural for a local politician to be involved.

Still, Scientology is a controversial religion, which many allege is a cult, that has been accused of kidnapping, human trafficking and child abuse, as well as coercive and abusive treatment of its members.

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