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.
Bass was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Wilhelmina (née Duckett) and DeWitt Talmadge Bass. 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.
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 reelected 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.
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 stepchildren, 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.
Before her election 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. She won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2010 for her leadership during the Great Recession.
Núñez termed out of the Assembly at the end of the 2007-08 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 sworn in on May 13, 2008.
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. The two Republicans were ousted from their party leadership positions over the agreement. Voters defeated the budget referendum in May 2009.
In June 2009, Bass drew criticism from conservative commentators for statements she made during an interview with Los Angeles Times reporter Patt Morrison in response to a question about how conservative talk radio affected the Assembly's efforts to pass a state budget. Referencing the condemnation from conservative talk radio hosts that three Republicans experienced after they voted for a Democrat-sponsored plan to create revenue by raising taxes, Bass described the pressures Republican lawmakers face:
Bass's National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund Lifetime Score is an F. The Gun Owners of California Positions on Gun Rights have also given her an F. In 2010 while campaigning for Congress, Bass supported legislation that with other regulations would have required all gun dealers to report sales to the federal government.
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 represent California's 33rd congressional district.
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 won the general election with 86% of the vote. She raised $692,988.53 and spent $803,966.15, leaving $52,384.92 on hand and a debt of $3,297.59.
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 to learn about advocating for reforms to the child welfare system. The week culminates in Shadow Day, when participants spend a day following their member of Congress through their daily routine. Bass serves on the organization's board of directors.
Nancy Pelosi appointed Bass to chair the Democratic Committee on Caucus and Procedures, previously known as the Committee on Oversight, Study and Review (OSR), in 2014. She served in that capacity for six years. The committee is responsible for reviewing and recommending rules for the House of Representatives Democratic caucus.
Bass was reelected to a fourth term with 81.1% of the vote. She endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2015. On August 3, 2016, Bass launched a petition to have then-candidate Donald Trump psychologically evaluated, suggesting that he exhibited symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The petition was signed by 37,218 supporters. She did not attend President Trump's inauguration after conducting a poll on Twitter.
Throughout her time in Congress, Bass has been 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 Washington engages African nations and to promote the many opportunities to expand trade and economic growth between them and the U.S. One of her key priorities was to reauthorize and strengthen the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which enables African nations to export goods to the U.S. duty-free. In 2015, Bass was instrumental in reauthorizing the bill.
In November 2016, Bass supported the passage of Measure HHH and Measure H, which promise billions of dollars for housing homeless individuals. She has said she 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.
Bass has advocated 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 also introduced more than 50 bills and resolutions pertaining to democracy protection, expanding economic opportunity, and other issues in Africa. Bass continues to engage the African diaspora with regular popular policy breakfasts, which are open to the public.
Bass is considered a liberal in her fiscal positions. She has a rating of 10% from the conservative California Tax Payers Association. 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 has said that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should expire. In 2017, she voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, citing its disproportionate impact on California's middle-class families.
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.
In 2018, the Los Angeles Stonewall Democratic Club named Bass its Public Official of the Year. In 2019, she voted in favor of the Equality Act, which bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, education, credit and financing, and more.
Since its founding, Community Coalition has blocked the construction of liquor stores and encouraged construction of small businesses, affordable housing, and nonprofits. It 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.
Upon arriving in Congress, Bass founded the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY), a bipartisan group of members of Congress that develops 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 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.
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 introduced the Jobs and Justice Act of 2018, omnibus legislation that would increase Black families' upward social mobility and help ensure equal protection under the law.
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.
After the 2018 elections, Democrats regained the majority in the House of Representatives. Representative Seth Moulton and others who felt the current leadership was "too old" gathered signatures to replace Nancy Pelosi as the Democrats' leader. Bass was their first choice for leader, but rejected the offer, supporting Pelosi for speaker. On November 28, 2018, Pelosi won the speakership on a 203-to-32 vote.
Bass served as the 2nd vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus during the 115th Congress. She was elected chair of the CBC on November 28, 2018. Her priorities include the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, reinforcement of the Affordable Care Act, lowering health care costs, comprehensive criminal justice reforms, and ensuring that more Americans learn about the CBC's actions.
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.
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 strongly supports 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 to close the loophole that allowed a gun to be acquired in the Charleston church massacre.
In 2019, Bass 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. With Danny Davis, she also introduced the Financial Aid Fairness for Students (FAFSA) 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.
In 2020 Bass was one of more than 115 House Democrats to sign a letter criticizing Israel's plan to annex parts of Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank. She co-sponsored House Resolution 729, which expressed support for defense aid to Israel.
The bill passed the House on June 25, 2020, but is not expected to pass the Senate.
In July 2020, Bass was discussed as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. When Biden chose Kamala Harris, Bass tweeted, "@KamalaHarris is a great choice for Vice President. Her tenacious pursuit of justice and relentless advocacy for the people is what is needed right now."