By Cristina Marcos - 02/16/16 06:00 AM EST
Female lawmakers on Capitol Hill are rallying around one of their own in Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonRace tailspins into gutter Sunday shows preview: Pressure on Trump for second debate Trump: 'I won the debate' MORE’s campaign for president.
Part of it is a result of Clinton’s deep backing from the Democratic establishment in Congress, which includes male lawmakers. A total of 192 out of 188 House and 46 Senate Democrats have endorsed Clinton, compared to two House Democrats for her rival, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Pressure on Trump for second debate Maher, Silverman: Gary Johnson is no Bernie What will be October’s surprise? MORE (I-Vt.).
But for many women in Congress, supporting Clinton is also personal.
“I just hope that we rise to the occasion and recognize that if she doesn’t win, it could suggest that maybe women lost a great opportunity.”
Despite the potential to become the nation’s first female president, Clinton hasn’t locked up support from female voters.
On top of her 22-point loss in the New Hampshire primary last week, about 55 percent of female New Hampshire voters voted for Sanders in the primary.
Two Clinton surrogates faced blowback last week for suggesting that women are betraying their gender if they don’t support the Democratic front-runner.
Feminist activist Gloria Steinem said that young women are flocking to Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie,” and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeated her famous line about a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who was the only woman running for the GOP presidential nomination until suspending her bid this week, offered a warning to female voters in her campaign’s closing statement.
“Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you're a woman. That is not feminism,” Fiorina said.
Those warnings are familiar to Speier. She recalled her first congressional campaign in 1979 at the age of 28, when female voters insisted they wouldn’t vote for her in the Democratic primary just because she is a woman. She ultimately lost that race and later won election to the House in 2008.
“I’ve always thought that women have not succeeded as they should, have gone as far as they should, because it’s not the men that aren’t supporting them. It’s oftentimes other women,” Speier said.
All of the female lawmakers who spoke with The Hill emphasized that they aren’t supporting Clinton just because of her gender.
“I think it is,” Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeDems nominate Kaine for VP Sanders gives blessing as Dems nominate Clinton Sanders formally nominated for president MORE (D-Ohio) said when asked if it’s important for female Democrats to show solidarity with Clinton. “But I think it’s more important to be sure that we are supporting someone who is prepared to be the president of the United States.”
Many female lawmakers have longstanding relationships with Clinton from working with her during her tenure in the Senate.
“I think women developed these collaborative relationships in the Senate because they were outsiders. And they had to find different ways of working in that very old institution if they were going to have the impact,” said Nancy L. Cohen, a historian and author of “Breakthrough: The Making of America's First Woman President.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said she is “thrilled over the prospect of electing the first woman president in my lifetime.” But she stressed her experience of working with Clinton on legislation such as a 9/11 first responders aid bill. “I know firsthand her ability, her intelligence, her commitment, her hard work.”
Female Democratic senators have been pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the only holdout among their number, to endorse Clinton.
Out of 62 House Democratic women, all but eight have endorsed the former secretary of State. That number does not include the three female non-voting delegates who caucus with Democrats.
Three of the holdouts are staying neutral due to their leadership positions within the Democratic Party: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, while Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Lawmakers seek answers on Pentagon employees' casino, strip club charges Man arrested for allegedly threatening Hawaii Dems MORE (D-Hawaii) is a vice chair.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the first female Speaker, has not endorsed anyone but has repeatedly heaped praise on Clinton.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who is currently the longest-serving woman in the House, is officially neutral but, in the Boston Globe earlier this month, described Sanders as “the only voice we’ve had the last three decades, of all these presidential candidates, who is actually talking about the economic issues that are actually affecting American families.”
Of Clinton, she said, “I must say that when Secretary Clinton was secretary of State, I don’t recall her ever attempting to balance [free-trade agreements] or change them in any way.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a former chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill that she wants to “let this campaign play out.”
But, she added, “When I’m needed, I’m going to ensure that I do everything I can do to make sure we have a Democrat in the White House.”
Two other neutral female lawmakers face tough reelection races this fall. Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Fla.) is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, although former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonRace tailspins into gutter Sunday shows preview: Pressure on Trump for second debate GOP memo questions Clinton real estate purchase: report MORE did appear on the stump for her 2014 campaign.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), meanwhile, has some history with the Clintons: Bill Clinton endorsed her primary opponent during her first campaign in 2012.
Freshman Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) has also not endorsed any presidential candidate yet.
Despite downplaying the role of gender in their decisions to back Clinton for president, female lawmakers acknowledge the message that their mass endorsements send.
“I hope that solidarity … encourages women of all ages to think about the impact here,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.).