Barbara Boxer

Democrat Barbara Boxer served 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected senator for the state of California.


Born November 11, 1940, Barbara Boxer won her first political campaign in 1976, and represented California in Congress from 1983 to 1992, when she was elected Senator. A Democrat, Boxer opposed the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the authorization for use of military force in Iraq in 2002. Her daughter married Hillary Clinton's brother at the White House in 1994.

Early Life

U.S. Senator. Born Barbara Levy in Brooklyn, New York, on November 11, 1940. Her parents, Sophie Silverstein Levy and Ira Levy, were both first-generation Jewish immigrants to the United States. Barbara Levy met husband Stewart Boxer as a student at Brooklyn College. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics, Barbara Boxer worked as a stockbroker for three years while her husband attended law school. In 1965, the couple moved to northern California, where they had two children: son Doug and daughter Nicole.

After an unsuccessful run for the Marin County Board of Supervisors in 1972—her first attempt at political office—Boxer worked as a journalist at the Pacific Sun, an alternative weekly newspaper published in Marin County. In 1976, she ran again for the Marin County Board of Supervisors, this time winning a seat and serving for six years. Following the retirement of U.S. Representative (and Boxer mentor) John Burton in 1982, Boxer ran successfully for his seat in Congress.

Liberal Stalwart

In Washington, Barbara Boxer soon developed a reputation as a liberal feminist, campaigning for abortion rights and many environmental causes. In 1991, Boxer became a prominent opponent of the First Gulf War. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Boxer also exposed egregious examples of Pentagon overspending, such as the $7,600 once appropriated for a single coffee maker.

During the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, Boxer led a march of women in support of Anita Hill, a law professor who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment. Boxer was also implicated in the House banking scandal of 1992, in which she and 450 other congressional members and aides were found to have written bad checks on the House Bank, covered by overdraft protection paid for by taxpayers. Boxer apologized and wrote a check to the Deficit Reduction Fund in the amount of her overdraft fees.

When Democratic California Senator Alan Cranston retired in 1992, Boxer sought his seat. In the November general election, she defeated Bruce Herschensohn, a Republican whose candidacy unraveled in the final weeks of the race after reports surfaced that he had visited a nude bar.

Once in the Senate, Boxer's voting record continued to favor liberal causes. She opposed bills designed to limit abortion rights; drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and the authorization for use of military force in Iraq in 2002. Boxer also worked on behalf of voting reform, co-sponsoring the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 with then-Senator Hillary Clinton and filing an objection to Ohio's electoral college votes in the 2004 election, voicing concerns of vote fraud.

In 1994, Boxer's daughter Nicole married Tony Rodham, the brother of then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Rose Garden ceremony, in which teenage First Daughter Chelsea Clinton served as a bridesmaid, was the first White House wedding in 23 years. Tony and Nicole Rodham had one son, but divorced in 2000.

Democratic Leader

After winning reelection in 1998, Boxer planned to retire at the end of her second term. She changed her mind, she said, after hearing then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) admonish Democrats for criticizing the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "Then I got really fearful for my country," Boxer said. "The greatest thing about our country is that we're free and that we debate and we talk." In the 2004 election, Boxer won a third term by crushing Republican Bill Jones. Because California's population is so large and Boxer's margin of victory was so great, her 2004 haul of nearly 7 million popular votes was greater than that earned by any other U.S. Senator in history. Following the election, Boxer took a position in the Democratic Party's Senate leadership as Chief Deputy Whip.

In 2010, Boxer ran for a fourth term in the Senate, facing off against first-time Republican candidate and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina. Despite serious economic and employment crises facing California at the time, one of the most-discussed moments of the campaign in the national press came after Fiorina was caught on tape calling Boxer's hairstyle "so yesterday." Boxer's campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski responded, "Let her talk about hair; we're talking about jobs."

In addition to her work in the Senate, Boxer has written two novels—A Time to Run and Blind Trust—and made cameo appearances in movies and television shows including Murphy Brown, Traffic and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Retirement and Legacy

In January 2015, Boxer announced that she would not seek reelection and would retire after her term expires at the end of 2016. Her retirement will open up the top Democratic spot on the Environment and Public Works Committee and leave the Senate without one of its strongest voices on environmental issues.   

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