A woman’s place is in the House
Where are those binders full of women when you need them? The Republican Party could sure use a few.
This week, Republicans in the U.S. House approved a slate of 19 committee chairmen chosen by a GOP steering committee. White males, every one.
They’re all fine statesmen, we’re sure. All eminently qualified. But come on. We thought one lesson of the 2012 election was that Republicans could stand to work a little harder at that whole diversity thing.
The House power lineup is especially glaring because the number of female members will be at all-time highs in both chambers of the 113th Congress: 81 women in the House, 20 in the Senate.
Over in the Senate, the sisterhood has been feeling downright giddy about those numbers.
Two weeks ago, during a new-member orientation, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tweeted about “our first-ever in U.S. history traffic jam in women senators’ restroom. #somerecordsmustbebroken.” She later explained that there were five senators in there, and only two stalls.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., tweeted about a “power meeting” with newly elected Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer in the same setting. “Gonna need a bigger bathroom,” McCaskill quipped.
The problem for Republicans in both chambers is that most of the women are Democrats. Roughly 90 percent of the House Republican caucus is white male. Most of the GOP women lack seniority, a big factor in committee leadership calculus. The 113th House actually will have fewer Republican women than the 112th.
House Speaker John Boehner is being lobbied hard to appoint women to chair two remaining committees: the Ethics Committee and the Committee on House Administration. Those are lesser assignments, not subject to a steering committee vote, and there currently are no GOP women on either committee.
Democrats don’t seem to have so much trouble finding qualified women: Recall that when they held the House, a woman was speaker. At least five Democratic women are expected to be named ranking committee members in the House; those are the members who, if their party was in power, would likely be the chairs. Women are expected to chair as many as seven committees in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
That happened in part because Democrats made it their business to recruit strong female candidates. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says women were central to the party’s strategy to hold on to its majority in that chamber.
Note to Republicans: It’s on you to diversify your ranks. A little less emphasis on seniority — can you say “good old boy”? — could help get things moving. But it’s hard to find women for your leadership team when there are so few of them in Congress to begin with.
Ever wonder why Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” remark in the second presidential debate rubbed so many women the wrong way?
His point was that as governor of Massachusetts, he had gone the extra mile to find qualified women to serve in his Cabinet after noting that all the candidates were men. “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women,” he said.
The problem is that after decades in business, Romney didn’t already have his own list of capable female candidates. Neither does Boehner, apparently. He needs to get cracking on that.
Fun fact: One of Boehner’s first actions as speaker was to order a new women’s bathroom built steps from the House floor. Before that, female representatives had to exit the chamber and hike through Statuary Hall to get to the restroom — a 10-minute round trip — while men barely had to leave their seats. “Love the new ladies room off the floor of the House,” tweeted Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md. “Three cheers to @SpeakerBoehner.”
Parliamentarian John Sullivan, whose office was moved to make space for the new restroom, didn’t object. “I know one day the House will be half women,” he told a Politico reporter. If the Republicans know what’s good for them, they’ll get some more estrogen on their side of the aisle.