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Barbara Lee’s Long Quest to Curb Presidential War Powers Faces a New Test

  • September 14, 2021

That day on the House floor, in speeches alternately lofty and furious, Republicans and Democrats spoke with one defiant voice, vowing to destroy the terrorists who planned the attacks and to unify in support of Mr. Bush. A Republican congressman predicted the law would pass unanimously, and said the display of unity would give him great comfort.

Then Ms. Lee rose to speak.

“However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint,” she said. “Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let us step back for a moment. Let us just pause for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.”

In the end, 518 members of Congress, including senators, voted in favor of the resolution. Only Ms. Lee dissented.

The daughter of a retired lieutenant colonel who fought in World War II and Korea, Ms. Lee, 75, has long insisted that she is not a pacifist. As she mulled her vote, she said, it was her background in psychiatric social work — where she learned the importance of never making a decision in the heat of emotion — that helped make up her mind.

Her stance was quickly met with a fierce backlash. Some of Ms. Lee’s closest colleagues in Congress, she recalled, initially thought she had voted in error. When they learned she had purposefully opposed the resolution, they urged her to change her position, warning her that she would be voted out of office unless she did.

Outside Washington, voters furious with her stand deluged Ms. Lee with hate mail and death threats, to the point that she required a security detail, aides recalled.

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