The 114th Congress has a record number of women lawmakers. For the first time in history, women hold more than 100 seats in Congress, with 20 in the Senate and 84 in the House.
Yet, fewer women oversee Congressional committees than in the 113th Congress.
The 113th Congress, controlled by Democrats in the Senate, had nine women chair Senate committees. Now, in the new Republican Senate, only two women chair committees, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. In the House, none of the new committee chairs are women, with only one, Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, continuing to chair the House Administration Committee.
While the numbers seem surprising, being named chair lies in seniority, and most women of Congress have served fewer years compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, to chair a committee in the new Republican Congress, you must be a Republican.
Republican women are few in number when compared to Democratic women. In the Senate, Democrats tally 14 female lawmakers compared to six female Republicans. The House is worse, with 62 Democrats to a mere 22 Republicans.
“You cannot deny that women were in a more powerful position in the Unites States Senate when the Democrats were in control,” said Debbie Walsh of Rutgers University. “It's not to say that women can't and won't exert leadership, but we do know that titles matter, those formal positions of leadership matter.”
Women in the 114th Congress have led so far, exerting their leadership already in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline and blocking a Republican abortion bill over certain provisions.
But being a committee chairwoman does bring power to influence legislation. Calling hearings and directing policy initiatives is the job of a committee chair and with that power a chair can approve or deny any given policy issue.
“As women were chairing these committees, you saw a lot of bipartisan agreements,” said Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington. “So if you just look at it from that perspective, I'm worried, going forward, that we will not have those same things that women bring to the table to help get agreement in a way that works for everybody.”
Republican women have been elected in record numbers, but there are no women in the Republican leadership, including zero women at all on five different Senate committees.
“It doesn't help us as a party when the public out there thinks that there's this Republican initiative that is not supportive of women, and then they look at the makeup of the Senate and we just don't have that many,” said Sen. Murkowski, chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee.
Sources: The New York Times / Photo Credit: U.S. Congress