The women of 2019
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to walk into a voting booth and pull the lever. So it is fitting to close out this year by looking at the women who held power in 2019, who they were, and how they used it.
Of the 126 women serving in Congress, only 29 are members of the Republican Party. But there was one who represents not just New York’s 21st District, but also the manner in which the members of today’s Republican Party operate. Not only do they disregard all manner of norms, but they also appear to delight in flagrant lies, sure that even if they are called out on their falsehoods, only the falsehoods and not the corrections will appear in the Fox News highlight reel.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, a minority member of the Select House Committee on Intelligence, and the only Republican woman on the committee, did everything possible to disrupt the committee’s hearing on the corrupt behavior of Donald Trump in regard to Ukraine. Ignoring the rules that were established by the Republican Party, she behaved in a manner sure to invoke the chairman’s ruling that she was out of order. Repeatedly. This allowed her to claim that the Republicans on the committee were being silenced by its chairman, Adam Schiff. Vox noted, “Stefanik again characterized Republicans getting called out for running afoul of the rules as ‘just more of the ridiculous abuse of power that we see from Adam Schiff.’”
She became an overnight darling of the right-wing media bubble, causing the tweeter in chief to proclaim her a “new Republican Star.” Meanwhile, the rest of the nation basically reacted with, “Who is Elise Stefanik?” and/or “How can we get rid of her?” to the benefit of her Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb. NPR reported, “By Sunday night, Cobb’s campaign hauled in more than a million dollars in donations, including support from actors like Zach Braff, Rosie O’Donnell and Mark Hamill, the guy who plays Luke Skywalker. This is still a Republican-leaning rural district in upstate New York. Stefanik, the incumbent, has the clear advantage. But if she champions Trump through the impeachment hearings ahead, Stefanik faces a suddenly energized Democratic opponent back home.”
Since the Republicans have so few women in elected office, I was forced to look at Trump’s appointees instead. Such as Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former governor of South Carolina, who tried to have it both ways on the Confederate flag. Or the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, who daily passes up the opportunity to lie to the press corps by refusing to hold briefings and has managed to take her official position to a new low, which, following Sarah Sanders’ tenure, is a remarkable achievement. According to an October Washington Post profile which examined her toxic commentary about former chief of staff John Kelly, the “Never Trumpers,” Ambassador William Taylor, and CNN, “Since replacing Sanders nearly four months ago (while also becoming White House communications director and remaining Melania Trump’s spokeswoman), Grisham, 43, hasn’t faced the White House press corps in a single briefing. Considering that Sanders gave only two briefings in the first half of the year, Trump’s press secretaries are now two for 2019 in doing what had been routine in previous administrations.”
The level of corruption of the majority leader of the Senate is perhaps only matched by that of his wife, the current secretary of the Transportation Department. In addition to being investigated by Congress for actions taken that accrue to the benefit of a shipping company owned by her father and her sisters, she has been known to use her influence to help her husband, who is probably the least popular senator in Congress. Reports Politico,
The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.
Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell — including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications.
Education Secretary Betsy “Cruella” DeVos’ performance this year makes the case that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish incompetence in governance (in which the GOP excels) from corruption (in which the GOP also excels). Forbes notes, “DeVos recently suffered a series of setbacks in federal court in multiple lawsuits about her handling of the Borrower Defense to Repayment program. And in October, a federal judge held her in contempt of court for continuing to illegally seize wages and intercept federal tax refunds from student loan borrowers who had applied for debt relief, after she had been ordered to stop.”
In contrast, on the Democratic side of the aisle there is a deep bench of qualified, dedicated women devoted to making our federal government responsive to the needs of the American people—none of whom are being investigated for ethics violations or corruption.
Katie Porter represents the Orange County residents of California’s 45th District, as well as most Americans, when she goes after bank officers as a member of the House Committee on Financial Services. According to the website Law.com, “Rep. Katie Porter’s distinctive style, drawing on her experience as a law school professor, has forced white-collar defense lawyers who specialize in congressional hearings to grapple with how to prepare clients for questioning that uses a company’s own legal arguments against its top executive. Her repeated, effective use of that approach promises to make her a starring figure in preparations that have been known to include mock hearings, with lawyers playing the part of lawmaker during rehearsals.”
Last week, the speaker of the House announced that Rep Porter has been named to the powerful House Oversight Committee, where her clear, concise questioning will be put to good use in this, the main investigatory committee of the House.
This year’s freshman class also included the “squad” that kept Trump twitter-tied for the first half of the year. Trump’s racist attacks on the four women, Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, have only served to heighten their political profiles. From a July article in The Washington Post:
So begins the rush to define the parameters of “squad” and how narrow or expansive it is. Trump, who sent racist tweets suggesting that the congresswomen — all American citizens — “go back” to other countries, has labeled the Squad as “very Racist” “troublemakers,” “young, inexperienced, and not very smart.”
Tlaib, however, said last week that “Squad” has a broad political meaning. It stands for “a new era of what government should be about, [with] people on the ground, making sure that corporations are not seeping into our democracy and tainting the process.”
“One of the things that I love about everybody that supports equity and justice, that ‘we are the Squad’ — you hear people saying, ‘I’m part of the Squad, too’ — is we translated it into the movement work we all came from,” she added.
Four female senators ran in the Democratic presidential primary this year. First to drop out was Kirsten Gillibrand, after she failed to qualify for the second Democratic primary debate. A fierce advocate for women, her policy positions and candidacy never really caught on with the voters.
One who did catch on, at least during the first debate, was Kamala Harris, the one-time California attorney general and the state’s current junior senator. She was my personal favorite, and her charisma and policy positions could have contributed much to a Democratic victory, but running out of money, and with limited media attention, she suspended her campaign earlier this month. Which is beyond a shame, as she was the only woman of color in the race. According to The New York Times,
“She really showed the importance of having different perspectives on the debate stage,” said Amanda Hunter, research and communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which supports women in politics and studies double standards. “Her personal story about being bused to school was something that a historically typical older white man would not bring to the conversation.”
But “there is still a very entrenched stereotype of what a presidential candidate looks like in this country,” Ms. Hunter said. “Simply by running, Senator Harris challenged that and broke down stereotypes.”
When Donald Trump weighed in on her departure from the race, she shot back in a manner that made her supporters proud.
DonÃ¢Â€Â™t worry, Mr. President. IÃ¢Â€Â™ll see you at your trial. https://t.co/iiS17NY4Ry
Ã¢Â€Â” Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 3, 2019
Still remaining in the race and gaining media attention is Minnesota’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar. Perhaps best described as a left-leaning moderate, Business Insider notes that she is one of the more productive senators.
In 2016, Klobuchar sponsored or co-sponsored 27 bills that were signed into law, more than any other senator that year.
Two bipartisan bills Klobuchar introduced to combat the opioid crisis in 2018 were passed and signed into law.
Klobuchar was the lead author of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which banned lead in children’s products, among other provisions. She described it as the “most sweeping reform” of consumer product safety law in “decades.”
Clearly she is capable of working across the aisle and getting things done, but so far she has not shown that she would be a strong candidate against Trump.
And then there is Elizabeth Warren. From her first appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 10 years ago, she has continued to break down complicated government policies in terms that all can understand, without ever needing to talk down to her audience. She simply makes sense. She did it in 2009.
She did it in 2010.
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. … You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
And she is doing it in 2019.
But if we were taking a poll on who should be considered the 2019 Woman of the Year, my vote would be for the one and only female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Not only is she willing to stand up and call out Trump on his Putin worship, but she also cuts through all of the BS that he spouts to get right to the point. After she walked out of the meeting pictured above, Trump honestly thought he looked good in the photo and tweeted it out, with the words, “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!”
That is not how most saw it. Reported The Washington Post, “’She’s a woman of dignity and grace. … He’s an eighth-grade bully,’ said Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.), assessing the meeting. ‘I think it was appropriate that they got up and walked out when they’re facing childish behavior.’”
In 2019, not only did Nancy Pelosi face down Donald Trump, but she also faced down an insurgent movement within her own caucus. Claiming that the leadership needed young blood, a small group of Democrats led by Tim Ryan of Ohio and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts challenged her right to wield the gavel.
One of the many ways we Democrats differ from Republicans is in our reluctance to simply fall in line with what our leaders desire. Our tent covers a multitude of diverse opinions and positions, making our representatives more challenging for a speaker. Any speaker. And for a while there it looked like Nancy Pelosi may have been losing her grip.
She wasn’t, of course. She sailed through the caucus vote as well as the House vote, winning the speakership with 220 of the 430 votes cast.
And thank whatever gods may be that she did. Her capable leadership, her willingness to defend our democracy, and her ability to put Trump in the corner for being such a dunce may well prove to be the stalwart barrier between a republic and a tyranny that we desperately need.
I am proud of all of the Democratic women that we have elected to represent us. According to the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics,
In 2019, women hold 126, or 23.6%, of the 535 seats in the 116th U.S. Congress – 25, or 25.0%, of the 100 seats in the Senate and 101, or 23.2%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the first woman Speaker of the House, holds the highest position in the House and is second in line of presidential succession.
We still have quite a way to go in order to reach parity, but we have come a long way in the 100 years since we got the vote. It took us 55 years to claim the 4% of congressional seats that we held in 1975. Forty-four years after that, we now hold 23.6% of the seats.
It is a bitter, bitter pill that allows Trump to be in office as we celebrate the first hundred years of our franchise instead of the majority vote winner in 2016, Hillary Clinton. But at least we have a woman running the House of Representatives. And who knows? We may even have a woman running in the general election in 2020.