Amid info sessions, Rep.-elect Wagner sees ‘awesomeness’ of new gig

“Just the awesomeness of it all,” said Wagner. “Last night, we were at the National Archives and to get to see up close and personal the Declaration of Independence, our U.S. Constitution, an exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis and to really get a sense of this awesome history that we’re going to be a part of, the 113th Congress. Someday our archives will be in our National Archives and you get a certain sense of those pinch-me moments, where you think wow.”

The incoming congresswoman is in Washington, D.C., this week for the first half of freshman orientation. In a week chock-full of activities and meetings, she joined her fellow new members on Thursday for class photo op on the East steps of the U.S. Capitol building.

Wagner, a veteran of Republican politics, was chosen by incoming House Republicans to serve as the freshman representative to the GOP leadership team. The Missourian attributed her selection to being “a team player” and her extensive experience within the party, as well as having lent a helping hand to get many of her colleagues elected.

“After election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, I decided I would throw my hat in the ring to be their representative at the leadership table. And I sent out an email, began to call them all, sent them more information, answered their questions, listened to their ideas and issues and concerns. And it’s a great privilege and honor to be able to sit at that leadership table as a woman, from the Midwest, who’s a conservative,” she said.

Before running for Congress, Wagner served as the chairwoman for the Missouri Republican Party and as a co-chairman of the National Republican Committee. In 2005, under then-President George W. Bush, she was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, where she served for four years. Wagner reentered the political realm to chair Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) Senate campaign in 2010.

On Election Day, she beat out her Democratic rival, Glenn Koenen, with 60.1 percent of the vote, replacing the outgoing Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). Akin lost to incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in a failed bid for the Missouri Senate seat after his controversial comments regarding “legitimate rape” reached the national spotlight and caused his own party to cut off funding to his campaign.

When pressed on how she differs from her predecessor, Wagner said, “well, we’re very different.”

“I’ve known the congressman for many, many years. He was a good congressman and a very nice man, but he made a mistake and it was wrong. It was offensive, he apologized for it, made his case to the voters across Missouri and they made their decision. I’m just grateful that they were with me and were able to support my candidacy to come and represent them here,” she said.

The former ambassador was elected to the House alongside a record number of women, but Democratic wins for new members far outnumbered Republican victories among women. There are three new Republican, female House members, including Wagner, in the 113th Congress, compared to 18 Democrats.

In the presidential election, the gender gap was the largest since Gallup began tracking the metric in 1952, according to data released by the polling firm last Friday.
 President Obama won women by 12 percentage points, while Mitt Romney won men by 8 percentage points, a 20-percentage-point gap.

Wagner said she believes the Republican Party needs to takes steps to ensure it sends the right “messages of inclusiveness with women,” as well as all demographic groups.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to come together as women, legislators and work together on issues. And we, as a party, must reach women. We make up a majority of the electorate. We make so many decisions that have to do with the household and spending. I think if we sent more women to Congress, we would certainly solve a lot more problems,” Wagner said.

Read more about the incoming Congressional freshman in The Hill’s 2012 New Members Guide.

—Produced and reported by Geneva Sands and Adele Hampton.