Ex-Rep. Pat Schroeder misses ‘club’ of congressional sisters

Courtesy of National Organization for Women

Lawmakers expressed surprise when news broke about two secret government surveillance programs, but for former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), it wasn’t the first time she’d found out about government spying. During her first congressional race, she discovered the FBI had been monitoring her and her family. 

Schroeder made a name for herself during her tenure in Congress (1973-1997) as an outspoken advocate of family-work issues. She also briefly ran for president in 1988. Now, the former congresswoman is living with her husband in Florida. 

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She talks to The Hill about her life post-Congress:

Q: Who do you miss most in Congress?

Well, I miss the congresswomen. I mean we really did have a wonderful caucus going when I was there. And we really did work together on so many things, so I miss that little club.

Q: The “club” has grown since you were there, right?

It has; it has. It’s not enough as far as I’m concerned. I mean, we’re still not anywhere near critical mass, but I guess it has grown, and that’s good.

Q: What do you do in the evenings now that you don’t have to go to votes? Do you miss those?

Not at all. You know there’s a saying, ‘I control the job, the job does not control me,’ and that was a total lie. And now, I really can control my time, so my husband and I can go out to dinner; we can talk; we can go out with friends. I can’t tell you how many dinner parties or how many dinners out in Washington we had interrupted where you had your pager sitting on the table ready to go. You, know you might make it to the salad but not the dessert or the dessert but not the main course.

Q: And what about election nights?

Oh again, it’s really very pleasant. You can have friends over and watch returns, and if they go on too long, you can go to bed. You don’t have to stay up and hear noisy parties and hang out till all hours of the night trying to find out what happened everywhere to your friends and so forth.

Q: What’s your guilty pleasure?

I enjoy traveling. I think Marco Polo must’ve been somewhere in my gene pool.

Q: Where’s the most exotic place you’ve traveled since you left office?

Oh my goodness. Probably Albania or the Faroe Islands. We’ve gone to a lot of remote places.

Q: Describe your post-Congress life in one word.

Enjoyable.

Q: During your presidential campaign, you caught attention for that emotional press conference in which you cried. Speaker John Boehner [R-Ohio] is known for crying, too. Is there a double standard for men and women, or has the country grown to accept emotion from its political leaders?

Oh yes. Absolutely, and there always has been. I collected a crying file just out of interest, and it was marvelous. I mean it was … [Ronald] Reagan, every kind of sports star you ever heard of, all sorts of candidates for office. It was a time when it seemed like all of them had to tear up to show that they cared or something. But not women. Not women. And you think about Hillary [Clinton] when she kind of choked [up before the 2008 New Hampshire primary], and everyone went nuts. There really is an incredible double standard, and I cannot figure out why. I just don’t get it. People used to say to me, ‘Well, it’s because we don’t want somebody’s finger on the button that cries.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t want someone’s finger on the button that doesn’t.’ But they don’t’ seem to care if it’s a man, but they do seem to care if it’s a woman.

Q: You found out that your first campaign for Congress was under surveillance by the FBI. What do you think of PRISM program that tracks online data? Or the NSA phone data collection program?

Well, obviously, I don’t have a clearance to be briefed, so I don’t really know all the details, but as one who found out the FBI was paying my husband’s barber and friends and everything else, breaking into our house, and we had taps on the phone. I kept thinking of these federally paid people hearing, ‘Mom, she hit me. Oh, she started it.’ I wonder what they think they’re learning from all this.

So I must say, the fact that people are acting so shocked is kind of interesting because from my experience, I just assumed that they were watching everything. And for me, they always seemed to be.

Q: When they were monitoring you, did you ever find clues around the house? 

No, what happened is we’d have these break-ins, and we could never figure out what was missing, so it was a little scary because we thought maybe they were trying to kidnap the children or something. You know, this didn’t make any sense because you have a break-in, but you don’t see anything gone. But we weren’t savvy enough to put it all together, and then after I got elected, a little later, there was a front-page article in the newspaper that they had arrested someone named Timothy Redford for breaking and entering houses, and he said, ‘No, you can’t arrest me because I’m on the FBI payroll to break into the Schroeder house.’

Q: You were a young mother in Congress, even brought diapers to the House floor, what is your advice to young women who want to run for office or young members who are balancing making laws with raising children?

I would just say do it. Absolutely. All of the time I was there, I was a little terrified about it because a lot of people were telling me it doesn’t work, but it worked really well. The kids grew up fine. They’ve done well, gone on to do great things. Neither are in jail or drug addicts. It’s amazing.

Q: Let’s go back to presidential campaigning for a second. There’s a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016. What advice would you give her?

My first would be is, I hope she doesn’t announce what she’s going to do for as long as possible because I think it holds other people back, and I’m really tired of four-yearlong presidential campaigns. So it would be nice to shorten it a bit, and she could. She’s certainly in control of this. I certainly hope she does it. … If she decides she doesn’t want to do it, she has every right to decide that, and she’s given a lot already.

Q: In what other ways has the political climate changed?

Well mainly, it’s almost like you can’t run unless you have a billionaire on a leash that will fund you. The money thing is horrible. When I first ran, my average contribution was $7.50, and when I left, it was $32. And I’m very proud of that, that we always did it with low amounts. I don’t think there’s anybody [who] can say that now.