Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who was recently elected vice chair of House Democratic Caucus took a moment with NBC News to reflect on his journey. Lieu, a Taiwanese-immigrant, stated that he spent most of his childhood in the U.S. selling gifts and fighting shoplifters.
“To go, from that, and now to being in House leadership at the Democratic caucus,” Lieu stated, is a testament to “the endurance of the American dream.”
His arc can also be used as a metaphor for larger events in the Asian American community. He said that the group has seen a rise in political activity, influence, and visibility over the years. They are now more accepted as part of American society. Lieu said that this evolution coincided with his own.
He said, “It’s more of a recognition of the growing importance by the Asian American Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islander communities.”
Lieu’s rise in power is not only due to the Asian American community growing politically, but also to the strength and participation of the caucus, as well as the many experiences he has accumulated along the way.
Lieu, who was also re-elected to his seat last month, will succeed fellow California Rep. Pete Aguilar as the new chair of the caucus at the beginning of the new Congress, Jan. 3. Lieu beat three other candidates: Reps. Joyce Beatty from Ohio, Debbie Dingell, Michigan, and Madeleine Dean, Pennsylvania, in a vote between his House colleagues.
According to the congressman, he attributes his election to an understanding from the caucus about the necessity of having Asian Americans represented in leadership given the community’s growing political power.
According to Pew Research, the Asian American electorate has risen 139% in two decades. Pew Research found that the Asian American vote was the most decisive in a variety of races, including Nevada where 10% of the electorate is made up of Asian Americans. This helped swing the 3rd Congressional District blue and Georgia where the racial group could tip it in a tight runoff Tuesday.
He said that his win was not just for Asian Americans but also shows the power of a wide collective. Lieu stated that in addition to the strong support of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the endorsement of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (which included a speech by Rep. Raul Ruiz from California), was an important aspect to the campaign.
“I find it remarkable that the House Democratic Caucus accomplished what they did. He said that over 200 people in independent elections and races elected a leadership team that reflects the beauty of America. It shows that all of our groups and caucuses work together to put people above politics and help American families.
Madalene Mielke is the president and CEO at Asian Pacific Institute for Congressional Studies. She told NBC News that Lieu’s election to the Democratic leadership could have a significant effect on the Asian American community.
Mielke stated that this “really puts sort of a pin into that Asian Americans now have someone who can help set legislative priorities, and be able to think about it through the lense of an Asian American.” “I believe this is part of the evolution in how the leadership of the Democratic caucus have really embraced the reflective diversity its members.”
Mielke stated that simply electing an Asian American to the office does not always mean they are representing the community’s best interests. She stated that genuine inclusion requires a concerted effort in order to ensure Asian Americans feel included across all legislative priorities, from education to health care. Mielke stated that Lieu has already spoken out about language access. This is a critical issue for Asian Americans who have a high proportion of English-speaking people or those who speak English as a second language.
Lieu also reflected upon the importance of paving the way to others.
“I can remember growing up, and discovering that S.B. Wu was lieutenant governor in Delaware. I thought, “Huh, that Asian American is in a pretty good position in Delaware.” Lieu recalled. It occurred to me that if they can do that, then everyone can be anything in America. That’s what I believe. It gives me hope to see diversity in representation.
Mielke stated that while Lieu’s historic win is significant, it’s not surprising. She noted that Lieu was vice-chair of the Policy and Communications Committee and had made a name for itself as a vocal member the caucus. Lieu was a sponsor of the Trump article of impeachment and was later chosen by Nancy Pelosi to be a manager during Trump’s second impeachment trial. Lieu, who recited what Jesus said about homosexuality in June, went viral and was then silenced on the House’s floor for 20 seconds.
She said that Lieu is well-positioned to lead.
Mielke stated that “He has a very strategic plan when it is about how he communicates messages to people — to both his constituents as well as to people across all community.” “He’s just proven that he is a leader who happens to be Asian American.”
Mielke stated that Lieu is a strong leader and worker, despite being stereotyped in Asian American industries. This has been a problem for the group in all sectors, from law to business.
“Congressman Lieu is a very kind and forthright person. He is a man of no-nonsense. Mielke stated that his tweets are a great way to show who he really is as an authentic person. He has over 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. “I believe that’s part of the narrative people have about him and the moment.”