Male Senators Begrudgingly Admit Women Are Important

Amid praise for a crucial two-for-one budget deal, male lawmakers “admit” their female colleagues were the ones who led the charge.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speak after appearing on national television together on the morning of October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Oct. 16, 2013, 1:17 p.m.

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The end is now in sight for the 16-day gov­ern­ment shut­down. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell have pro­posed a plan that would open the gov­ern­ment, raise the debt ceil­ing un­til next year, and cre­ate a bicam­er­al com­mit­tee to dis­cuss longer-term budget is­sues.

Much of the lan­guage of the res­ol­u­tion comes from the work of 14 sen­at­ors: sev­en Re­pub­lic­ans, six Demo­crats, and one in­de­pend­ent. What is not­able about their own plan isn’t the evid­ence of bi­par­tis­an­ship in the re­cent con­gres­sion­al grid­lock, but that more than half of its au­thors are wo­men.

No, it’s not about the wo­men as peace­keep­ers, ne­go­ti­at­ors, or just nicer people in gen­er­al, as the Sen­ate’s fe­male mem­bers — and gov­ern­ing wo­men in gen­er­al — have of­ten been de­scribed. It’s about the idea that fe­male sen­at­ors in par­tic­u­lar were the ones to lead the charge. For some male sen­at­ors, the situ­ation ap­pears to be something akin to an “oops” mo­ment they re­luct­antly re­veal.

After lead­ers an­nounced the plan on the Sen­ate floor Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, Re­pub­lic­an John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, who worked on the plan, took the po­di­um to thank his fel­low sen­at­ors. “I would like to say that if there is a good out­come [of the shut­down], it is the fact that 14 of us were able to join to­geth­er, Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat,” he said. “Lead­er­ship, I must fully ad­mit, was provided primar­ily by wo­men in the Sen­ate.” Then, after a small laugh: “I won’t com­ment fur­ther on that.”

An­oth­er col­lab­or­at­or, Demo­crat Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, praised his fe­male col­leagues’ ne­go­ti­at­ing abil­ity Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. Al­though people of­ten joke about wo­men in lead­er­ship roles, “the truth is, wo­men in the Sen­ate is a good thing,” he said.

At the bi­par­tis­an group’s meet­ings, Mc­Cain had joked sev­er­al times that “the wo­men are tak­ing over,” The New York Times re­por­ted Monday. Sen. Joe Manchin, the first Demo­crat to join the team, had said the “gender mix was great. It helped tre­mend­ously.” The West Vir­gin­ia law­maker ad­ded, “Would it have worked as well if it had been 12 wo­men or 12 men? I can’t say for sure, but it worked pretty well with what we had.”

Susan Collins, the sen­at­or who kick-star­ted and led the deal ne­go­ti­ations, seemed to ac­know­ledge the un­com­fort­able fo­cus on her lead­er­ship in a Wed­nes­day floor speech fol­low­ing the af­ter­noon an­nounce­ment. The Re­pub­lic­an from Maine said Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were the first to call Collins after she pro­posed work­ing on a bi­par­tis­an debt deal in the first week of the shut­down. “Now I know that my col­leagues are tired of hear­ing about the wo­men in the Sen­ate,” she said, chuck­ling, “but the fact is that they were the first to con­tact me.”

Wo­men make up 20 per­cent of the Sen­ate. Male sen­at­ors’ re­cent com­ments on the work they do there are 100 per­cent awk­ward.

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