McConnell downplays all-male healthcare working group

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator reviving effort to rein in Trump on tariffs The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP’s midterm strategy takes shape MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday downplayed criticism of the GOP’s 13-senator healthcare working group that contains no women, saying the entire Republican conference is involved.

“The working group that counts is all 52 of us, and we’re having extensive meetings, as I said a few minutes ago, every day,” McConnell told reporters after being pressed about the all-male working group.

“Nobody is being excluded based upon gender,” he added, saying the focus on the 13-member group exaggerates its importance.

McConnell criticized the press for asking about who met with GOP leaders before a broader conference-wide lunch meeting. He told reporters to pay more attention to the policy discussion and less on gender politics.

“You need to write about what’s actually happening, and we’re having a discussion about the real issues. Everybody is at the table. Everybody,” he said.

The majority leader emphasized that his entire caucus, including five female senators, will meet regularly to discuss healthcare reform.

“We just had a meeting for an hour, everybody was at the table. We’ll have another meeting for an hour or so tomorrow. Everybody will be at the table,” he said.

Leadership invited one female colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending Lawmakers, media team up for charity tennis event The Hill's Morning Report — Trump picks new fight with law enforcement, intelligence community MORE (R-W.Va.), to meet with the working group at noon in the Strom Thurmond Room to discuss Medicaid reforms.

Capito said she did not know whether she would be invited to attend future meetings of the group, but a spokesman for McConnell later clarified to reporters that she will not be made a regular member of the task force.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump draws bipartisan fire over Brennan Kavanaugh has 'productive' meeting with key swing votes Budowsky: Collins, Murkowski and Kavanaugh MORE (R-Maine), a respected voice on a variety of issues with the GOP conference, told NBC News that she would not participate in the working group even if invited.

Senate Democrats pounced on the issue to paint GOP leaders as insensitive to women’s healthcare needs. 

"If you look at the House bill, it is so discriminatory against women," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' Senate Democrats should stop playing politics on Kavanaugh Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad MORE (N.Y.). 

"To not have women in the smaller group that we know is making many of the real decisions is a very, very bad thing. They're more than half the population."