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.