🎧 LEVER TIME: Tales From The Crypto

Summer Lee Plans To Keep Fighting Forward

Nov 2, 2022 David Sirota
David Sirota interviews Summer Lee, a progressive Democrat just elected to Congress in Pennsylvania, about the pro-Israel super PAC spending millions to stop her.
Summer Lee Plans To Keep Fighting Forward
Pennsylvania State Rep. Summer Lee. (AP Photo/Rebecca Droke)

Editors note: Summer Lee is the projected winner of Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. Read our in-depth Q&A with Lee below.

Earlier this year, a pro-Israel super PAC spent nearly $3 million attacking Summer Lee in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district, running ads claiming she was a bad Democrat. Now, the same group is spending big to defeat Lee in her general election race against a Republican.

The United Democracy Project — which has been bankrolled by the powerful pro-Israel advocacy group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and conservative billionaires — recently put more than $1 million into TV ads attacking Lee, according to data from AdImpact. The group has also spent about $80,000 on mailers opposing Lee.

Why is AIPAC’s super PAC spending millions on the race? In a recent interview with The Lever’s David Sirota in Pittsburgh, Lee said she believes that the organization is targeting her because she’s “a progressive Black woman.”

She continued: “I can find no other answer or reasoning, but for the fact that progressive Black women in these spaces pose a threat to corporate interests and to corporate power. And these are Republican billionaires who are worried about their bottom line.”

The United Democracy Project’s spending could help Republicans win a House majority in the midterm elections next week. Lee is currently locked in a surprisingly tight race — potentially in part due to the fact that her Republican opponent, Mike Doyle, shares the same name as the retiring longtime Democratic lawmaker whom Lee is running to succeed.

Below is a lightly edited, abridged Q&A from Sirota’s discussion with Lee.

David Sirota: Tell me a little bit about what’s going on at the end of this race. I know there’s the fake Mike Doyle versus you and AIPAC is coming in with all this money.

Summer Lee: You know, we had a group that came in, in the primary, making the argument that I wasn’t a Democrat enough, that I was “other” in some way and not loyal to the party, and the same exact folks are putting a million dollars in right now to deliver a Republican majority to Kevin McCarthy.

Sirota: Yeah, so what do you think it’s about? Why are they so focused on you?

Lee: I mean, I cannot find any other indication but that it would have to be that I’m a progressive Black woman. I can find no other explanation.

Sirota: It can’t be the party. Like they’re now going in for a Republican.

Lee: It’s not that, and to be completely honest, if they cared as much as we do in Pittsburgh, and in our community, about the growing threat of this right-wing nationalism that we see and all of its manifestations — anti-Blackness and anti-semitism — if they cared as much about that as we do here, then they could never throw down for a candidate that we know will support that, a candidate that we know is going to caucus with those folks, and has already campaigned with someone who we know was at the insurrection.

So I can find no other answer or reasoning, but for the fact that progressive Black women in these spaces pose a threat to corporate interests and to corporate power. And these are Republican billionaires who are worried about their bottom line.

Sirota: Do you think it goes beyond the Israel issue?

Lee: I would never be able to speak on whether it’s an Israel issue, because none of their complaints against me in their million-dollar ads have ever mentioned Israel.

Sirota: How’s the party been once you won the primary? Has there been a healing, or is there still a rift?

Lee: I mean, I don’t know if there’s been healing or a rift. I think that the tensions that we experience nationwide are reflected here also. And we’re growing and we’re building new relationships, and we’re pushing our comfort level in good ways, and sometimes in bad ways. So there’s a number of folks in the party who were with us in the beginning, to be very clear. I believe I have more elected officials supporting me than all of the candidates combined in the primary. So even as we came out of the primary to the general, there were a few holdouts. There are a few folks who were never going to support me for what their personal reasons are, but the mass majority truly are and truly have been in the trenches with us and fighting.

Sirota: When you get to Congress, there are a lot of folks out there who feel like the Progressive Caucus is not holding out enough for progressive priorities. What do you say to folks like that who feel like they’ve been doing it for election after election after election, and they feel disillusioned?

Lee: Yeah, it’s tough. I say this often, that these systems weren’t built overnight, they’re not going to be dismantled overnight. And recognizing that and making sure that we are all accountable as a movement towards a strategy that will ever move us forward. And I think one of the most important things that we can do, having appropriate metrics is going to be major. What are our goals, this term in this position? How are we moving it forward?

It doesn’t always look like we’re moving the needle fast enough, and sometimes we’re not. And sometimes it’s harder. I’ve seen now how much harder it is to move, when I see the forces that rise up against me, and I’m not even there yet. The millions and millions of dollars that come in to silence progressives, to make sure that progressives aren’t as bold as they can be or would otherwise be… When I see those forces at play, I see how hard and how hostile it can be for progressives and government, and progressives in movement spaces. So we’ve got to fight, we have to keep fighting forward is really the answer.

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