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Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass pitches Rep. Barbara Lee to be the next U.S. housing secretary

The White House is looking at several candidates to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but no final decision has been made, an administration official said.
Rep Barbara Lee smiles while posing for a portrait
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., is retiring from Congress next year.Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is urging President Joe Biden to name a fellow California Democrat and progressive stalwart, longtime Rep. Barbara Lee, to be the next secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Bass said in an interview Tuesday.

Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman has filled the Cabinet post on an acting basis by since March 22, when Marcia Fudge stepped down.

Fudge “played a tremendous role. She moved on and I’m sure will continue making a contribution in other ways, but I think a perfect person to follow her would be Barbara Lee, because Barbara Lee is the same type of person in the sense that she’s a bold leader; she has worked on this issue for many, many years,” Bass said in a phone interview.

Bass, the mayor of America’s second-largest city, who served alongside Lee in the House from 2011 to 2022, said the pair worked together on legislation ensuring that young people can find housing after they leave the foster care system and fought to include rental assistance and funding for the homeless in Covid relief aid.

“I think her history of fighting for marginalized populations would serve her well,” Bass said of Lee.

The three women — Bass, Lee and Fudge — share something in common: They are all former chairwomen of the Congressional Black Caucus. Bass endorsed Lee for the open Senate seat in California, but Lee didn’t qualify in last month's primary for one of the top two spots to advance to the November election.

After more than a quarter-century in Congress, Lee, 77, will retire from the House early next year. Just a few years after she arrived in Washington, she quickly burnished her reputation as a leading liberal, becoming the only lawmaker in Congress to vote against the war in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

She received death threats after that vote and would go on to be a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus from 2005 to 2009 before she led the Black Caucus. She now leads the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

A spokesman for Lee had no comment for this article.

Biden hasn’t indicated whom he plans to name as the next head of HUD, which is responsible for federal housing policies and programs, including mortgage and loan insurance under the Federal Housing Administration, Community Development Block Grants to aid communities with economic development and housing rehabilitation efforts, and rental assistance through Section 8 certificates or vouchers for low-income families.

The White House is looking at several candidates, but no final decision has been made, a senior administration official said. The official said HUD is a very important Cabinet position, which is why officials are evaluating a few options.

Todman, the acting secretary, who is also a Black woman, is one possibility, the official said.

Bass is close to Biden and has campaigned with him during both the 2020 and 2024 cycles; Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both endorsed Bass for mayor during her 2022 race.

Bass said she hasn’t yet spoken to Biden or the White House about Lee. But she said she plans to raise the issue during her coming visit to Washington, where she is leading 40 mayors in pushing for legislation to help prevent veterans from becoming homeless.

Given that the presidential election is just seven months away, Bass said she would back Lee’s being named HUD secretary now or in a potential second Biden term. She said she's cognizant of the fact that House Republicans by next week will hold just a single-seat advantage over Democrats and that an early departure by Lee could affect the numbers in the House.

"I mean, of course, I want her appointment tomorrow. But I also want to be very sensitive to the balance of power within the House. I know that margin is so close. Hakeem Jeffries might wind up speaker by attrition. So I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to interfere with that," Bass said. Jeffries, D-N.Y., is the House minority leader.

"But I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that Biden gets re-elected. And so whether she’s appointed now or after he’s sworn in again, that’s fine. It’s very important to pay attention to the margin in the House," she said.

"However, it’s never too early to put in a word," she added.