Karen Ruth Bass (/ˈbæs/; born October 3, 1953) is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for California's 37th congressional district since 2013. From 2011 to 2013, she was the U.S. Representative for California's 33rd congressional district . A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served for six years in the California State Assembly, the last two as its Speaker.
On November 28, 2018, Bass was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) during the 116th Congress. She also serves as Chair of the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations and United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Prior to being elected to Congress, Bass represented the 47th district in the California State Assembly (2004–2010). In 2008, she was elected to serve as the 67th Speaker of the California State Assembly, becoming the first African American woman in United States history to serve as a Speaker of a state legislative body. For her leadership during the worst recession California had faced since the Great Depression, she, along with three other legislative leaders whom she worked alongside, was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2010. Bass is on the shortlist to become Joe Biden's Vice Presidential running mate in 2020.
Bass was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Wilhelmina (née Duckett) and DeWitt Talmadge Bass.[unreliable source? ] Her father was a postal letter carrier and her mother was a homemaker. She was raised in the Venice and Fairfax neighborhoods of Los Angeles and graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in 1971.
Witnessing the civil rights movement on television with her father as a child sparked her interest in community activism. While in middle school, Bass began volunteering for Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign.
She went on to study philosophy at San Diego State University, and graduated from the USC Keck School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. She then earned a bachelor of science degree in health sciences from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She also received her masters in social work from the University of Southern California.
In the 1980s, while working as a physician assistant and as a clinical instructor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC Physician Assistant Program, Bass witnessed the impact of the crack epidemic in South Los Angeles. After attending a San Francisco conference hosted by Rev. Cecil Williams entitled "Crack: The Death of a Race", Bass decided to organize a response.
In the late 1980s, Bass and other local community organizers founded Community Coalition, an organization with a mission to help transform the social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles that foster addiction, crime, violence, and poverty by building a community institution that involves thousands in creating, influencing, and changing public policy.
Since its founding, Community Coalition has blocked the construction of liquor stores and encouraged construction of small businesses, affordable housing, and nonprofits. Community Coalition has also secured funding for low-income students in middle and high schools in Los Angeles Unified School District. Community Coalition activists spoke at the March for Our Lives rally in 2018.[citation needed ]
In 2004, Bass was elected to represent California's 47th Assembly district. At her inauguration, she became the only African-American woman serving in the state legislature. She was re-elected in 2006 and 2008 before her term limit expired. Bass served the cities and communities of Culver City, West Los Angeles, Westwood, Cheviot Hills, Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, View Park-Windsor Hills, Ladera Heights, the Crenshaw District, Little Ethiopia and portions of Koreatown and South Los Angeles.[citation needed ]
Speaker Fabian Núñez appointed Bass California State Assembly Majority Whip for the 2005–2006 legislative session and Majority Floor Leader for the 2007–2008 legislative session. During her first term, she founded and chaired the California Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care, implementing a host of new laws to help improve the state's Foster Care System and leading the effort to secure $82 million in additional funding for the state's child welfare system. Under her direction, the Select Committee brought together bipartisan and broad-based community support, together with the voices of youth and families, to pass legislation designed to improve the lives of California's most vulnerable children.
During her term as Majority Whip, Bass also served as vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. As vice chair, she commissioned the first ever 'State of Black California' report, which included a statewide organizing effort to involve Black Californians in town halls in every part of the state with a prevalent Black community to solicit ideas to develop a legislative agenda. The result of the report was a legislative agenda for the Black community, which was released during her term serving as Majority Floor Leader.
Speaker Núñez termed out of the Assembly at the end of the 2007-2008 session, leaving Bass as the next-highest-ranking Democrat in the Assembly. After consolidating the support of a majority of legislators, including some who had previously been planning to run for the Speakership themselves, Bass was elected Speaker on February 28, 2008 and then sworn in as Speaker on May 13, 2008.
Under her Speakership, Bass promoted numerous laws to help improve the state's child welfare system. During her first year, she ushered through expansion of Healthy Families Insurance Coverage to help prevent children from going without health insurance and worked to slash bureaucratic red-tape to help speed up the certification of small businesses. She also secured more than $2.3 million to help revitalize the historic Vision Theater in Los Angeles; and more than $600 million for Los Angeles Unified School District. Bass worked with the governor and initiated the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy to reform the tax code in California. She also fought to repeal the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Bass' speakership was defined by the economic turmoil dominating the state. It was characterized by the John F. Kennedy Foundation in the following way:
"In February 2009, amid one of the worst budget crises in California's history, an imploding economy, and potentially catastrophic partisan deadlock, the state's Republican and Democratic party leaders came together to address the financial emergency. After weeks of grueling negotiation, the legislative leaders and Gov. Schwarzenegger reached an agreement on a comprehensive deal to close most of a $42 billion shortfall, putting an end to years of government inaction and sidestepping of the difficult decisions necessary to address California's increasingly dire fiscal crisis. The deal was objectionable to almost everyone; it contained tax increases, which the Republicans had long pledged to oppose, and draconian spending cuts, which brought intense criticism to the Democrats. Bass, David Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg, and Michael Villines were presented with the 2010 Profile in Courage Award in recognition of the political courage each demonstrated in standing up to the extraordinary constituent and party pressure they faced while working with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to address California's severe financial crisis."
Bass was criticized[by whom? ] for the following statement to Los Angeles Times reporter Patt Morrison: "The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for revenue. Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: 'You vote for revenue and your career is over.' I don't know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it's about free speech, but it's extremely unfair."
Karen Bass with Diane Watson on the day Bass announced she would run for US Congress in 2010.
In 2010, Congresswoman Diane Watson retired from Congress and encouraged Bass to run for her seat. Bass was ineligible to run for reelection to the State Assembly in 2010 due to California's term limits so on February 18, 2010, Bass confirmed her candidacy to succeed retiring Watson in California's 33rd congressional district.
Bass raised $932,281.19 and spent $768,918.65. Her 2010 campaign contributions came from very different and diverse groups with none donating more than 15% of her total campaign funds. The five major donors to her campaign are Labor Unions with $101,950.00; Financial Institutions with $90,350.00; Health Professionals with $87,900.00; the Entertainment Industry with $52,400.00 and Lawyers and Law Firms with $48,650.00.
Bass won the election with over 86% of the vote on November 2, 2010.
In redistricting following the 2010 census, the district was renumbered from 33rd to 37th. In 2012 she had no primary opponent, and carried the general election with 86%. She raised $692,988.53 and spent $803,966.15, leaving $52,384.92 on hand and a debt of $3,297.59.
Bass was involved in the Presidential election, having endorsed Barack Obama for a second term. She played a leadership role in the California African Americans for Obama organization in addition to serving in her post on Obama's national African American Leadership Council. Bass had also served as a co-chair of African Americans for Obama in the state of California during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Bass received 84.3% of the vote to be re-elected for a third term.
Bass received 81.1% of the vote to be re-elected for a fourth term. Bass endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2015. On August 3, 2016, Bass launched a petition to have then-candidate for President Donald Trump to be psychologically evaluated, suggesting that he exhibited symptoms of Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The petition was signed by 37,218 supporters. She did not attend the Trump’s inauguration after conducting a poll on Twitter.
Fueled by the 2016 election of Donald Trump and in an effort to channel the political frustrations of Angelenos, Bass created the Sea Change Leadership PAC to activate, educate, and mobilize voters. Bass won her primary with 89.18% of the vote. Bass received 88.2% of the vote to be re-elected for a fifth term.
Throughout her entire time in Congress, Bass has held the position of being the top Democrat on the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. Her goal is to transform how we think and engage African nations and to promote the many opportunities to expand trade and economic growth between the U.S. and African nations. During her time in that post, one of her key priorities was the re-authorization and Strengthening of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which enables the nations of Africa to export goods to the U.S. duty free. In 2015, Bass was instrumental in reauthorizing the bill.
Bass has been a leading voice and an advocate for preventing and ending famine in Africa. In 2017, she helped secure nearly $1 billion in funds to combat famine in Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan.
She has introduced more than 50 bills and resolutions pertaining to democracy protection, expanding economic opportunity, and other issues pertaining to the continent. Bass continues to engage the African diaspora with regular popular policy breakfasts, which are open for public participation, to discuss issues on the continent.
Upon arriving in Congress, Bass founded the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY), a bipartisan group of Members of Congress who develop policy recommendations to strengthen the child welfare system. One of the group's most significant achievements was the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, also known as Family First, which was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act on February 9, 2018. This historic reform aims to change child welfare systems across the country by addressing the top reasons children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
Starting in May 2012, the Caucus began hosting an annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, during which foster youth come to Washington DC for a week-long trip to learn about advocating for reforms to the child welfare system. The week culminates in Shadow Day, which is when participants spend a day following their Member of Congress through their daily routine. Bass serves on the organization's Board of Directors.
Previously known as the Committee on Oversight, Study and Review (OSR), Bass was appointed by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to chair the Democratic Committee on Caucus and Procedures in 2014. She served in that capacity for six years. The Committee is responsible for the review and recommendation of Democratic Caucus Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Bass served as the 2nd Vice Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus during the 115th Congress. She was elected to Chair the Congressional Black Caucus on November 28, 2018. Her priorities include the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, reinforcement of the Affordable Care Act, the lowering of health care costs, and the advancement of comprehensive criminal justice reforms, in addition to ensuring that more Americans learn about the actions of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Bass believes that the criminal justice system is broken in part due to the disproportionate incarceration rates of poor people of color. Bass currently serves as Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security. She has long called for criminal justice reform and to pay special attention to the way women are treated by the criminal justice system – from how they originally entered the criminal justice system, how they are treated when in prison, and what happens to them after they return to their communities.
In 2018, she voted in favor of the First Step Act, which divided Democrats and focused on rehabilitating people in prison by incentivizing them with the possibility of earlier release. Her contribution to the bill was a section addressing what she considers the inhumane practice of shackling women during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Bass believes that combating climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the United States and the entire international community. Shortly before EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned, Bass signed a letter to President Trump demanding he be fired for ethics violations. Bass is also a strong supporter of the Paris Climate Agreement. She was also one of the first 30 Members of Congress to support the Green New Deal.
Her National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund Lifetime Score is an F. The Gun Owners of California Positions on Gun Rights have also given Bass an F. In 2010 while campaigning for Congress, Bass supported legislation that with other regulations would have made all gun dealers report their sales to the federal government.
Bass participated in the 2016 sit-in against gun violence in the House of Representatives. Democratic members of Congress adopted the slogan "No Bill, No Break" in an attempt to push the introduction of legislation making it more difficult for Americans to own guns for self-protection. Bass is a strong supporter of legislation to prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of semiautomatic weapons and ammunition-feeding devices capable of accepting more than ten rounds in the United States. In 2019, she voted in favor of legislation to require a background check for every firearm sale and also to close the same loophole that allowed a gun to be acquired in the Charleston church massacre.
Bass supports universal health care and was one of the founders of the Congressional Medicare for All Caucus. She has voted more than 60 times against a repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and believes that Congress should improve the landmark piece of legislation instead of trying to repeal it.
In November 2016, Bass supported the passage of Measure HHH and Measure H, that promises billions of dollars towards housing for homeless individuals. Bass believes that supporting public housing, promoting loan modifications and protecting consumers against unsustainable loans are not only necessary to help at-risk families and individuals, but fundamental for economic recovery.[citation needed ]
In July 2018, Bass visited a federal facility used to detain migrant families and children separated from their parents after calling for the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. She also introduced the Family Unity Rights and Protections Act, which would require the federal government to reunite families that have been forcibly separated at the border. Bass also paid special attention to the impact that this policy was having on the child welfare system given her work on the issue.
Bass voted "yea" to support the proposed articles of impeachment against Trump. Regarding her vote to support the articles of impeachment, Bass tweeted "He abused the power of his office. He obstructed Congress. No one is above the law."
Bass is in favor of net neutrality and has supported legislation to protect the internet from attempts to roll back regulations. Bass supported the 2018 passage of the Music Modernization Act, which creates a formalized body, run by publishers, that administers the "mechanical licensing" of compositions hosted on music streaming services.
Bass has fought to give tax reductions for small businesses to hire new employees, increase the flow of credit to small businesses so they can grow and create jobs, and extend the research and development tax credit that encourages innovation and job creation. She also introduced the Local Hire Act to allow cities and counties to prioritize hiring local residents for infrastructure projects. The rule resulted in new jobs in Los Angeles. In May 2018, Bass and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) introduced the Jobs and Justice Act of 2018, omnibus legislation that would, if passed, increase the upward social mobility of Black families, and help ensure equal protection under the law.[citation needed ]
In 2018, Bass was awarded the "Public Official of the Year" from the Los Angeles Stonewall Democratic Club. In 2019, she voted in favor of the Equality Act, which ensures LGBTQ individuals have an equal opportunity to succeed and contribute to their communities by banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, education, credit and financing, and more.
In 2019, she introduced two pieces of legislation to address student loan debt. The Student Loan Fairness Act of 2019 addresses this crisis in three major ways: creating a new "10-10" standard, capping the interest rate, and accounting for cost of living. She also introduced the FAFSA Act of 2019 (Financial Aid Fairness for Students Act), which would repeal a law that makes it all but impossible for people with a drug conviction to receive federal financial aid for higher education.
Bass is considered a liberal in her fiscal positions. She has a rating of 10% from the conservative California Tax Payers Association. However, the more liberal Consumer Federation of California gives her very high ratings. Bass has supported keeping taxes low for the middle class and "tax credits for small businesses to hire new employees". She states that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should expire. In 2017, she voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, citing a disproportional impact the bill would have on California's middle class families.
From 1980 to 1986, Bass was married to Jesus Lechuga. Following their divorce, Bass and Lechuga jointly raised their daughter and her siblings, Bass's four step-children, Scythia, Omar, Yvette, and Ollin, together. Her daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga, and son-in-law, Michael Wright, were killed in a car accident in 2006.
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