Six Republicans reject bill renaming program to recruit women in science
© Getty Images

Multiple conservative House Republicans opposed legislation on Monday to rename an Agriculture Department program that recruits women and minorities for science careers after the first woman elected to Congress.

An overwhelming bipartisan majority approved the measure, 377-6; two House Republicans voted “present.”

The legislation seeks to make a minor change to the Agriculture Department's “Women and Minorities in STEM Fields Program” by renaming it after Jeannette Rankin, who, a century ago, was the first woman elected to Congress. She also held a degree in biology.


The existing program provides grants to colleges and universities for increasing participation of women and minorities from rural areas in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 

A handful of House Republicans — all men — opposed the legislation because Rankin was the only member of Congress to oppose the U.S. involvement in both World War I and World War II.

Rankin, a pacifist and a Republican, drew widespread condemnation from colleagues and suffragists at the time for her votes. But according to the House historian, before casting the lone vote against participating in World War II, she maintained: “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

Reps. Brian Babin (Texas), Dave Brat (Va.), Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksGOP lawmaker blasts Omar and Tlaib: Netanyahu right to block 'enemies' of Israel Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (Ala.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOvernight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House approves two bills to block Trump drilling House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban MORE (Ariz.), Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithThe 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Overnight Energy: Senate Dems introduce Green New Deal alternative | Six Republicans named to House climate panel | Wheeler confirmed to lead EPA Six Republicans named to House climate panel MORE (Va.) and Glenn Grothman (Wis.) voted against the bill, while Reps. Tom Rice (S.C.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.) voted “present.”

In a brief interview after the vote, Brat said he opposed the measure because of Rankin’s war legacy.

“I’ll let rational actors decide. They can weigh pros and cons,” Brat said of the possibility of his vote against a female recruitment bill potentially being misconstrued. 

Aides to other lawmakers who voted against the bill offered the same explanation.

“Rep. Gosar voted against the bill because of Rankin’s no vote for the U.S. declaration of war on Japan AND the fact that the Congressman is not supportive of preference grants in general,” Gosar spokesman Steven Smith said. 

The lawmakers who introduced the bill, Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), said they wanted to rename the program after Rankin to mark the 100th anniversary of her election this November.

“Renaming this program in Rankin’s honor is the right thing to do because it’s a reminder of those that had courage to break down the barriers, had the tenacity to not let go of their dreams, and the courage to be a mentor and an inspiration to us all,” Zinke, who currently holds the seat Rankin once held, said during floor debate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 39 percent of chemists, 16 percent of chemical engineers, 12 percent of civil engineers and 28 percent of environmental scientists are women. In addition, a Commerce Department report from 2011 concluded that women hold less than 25 percent of jobs in STEM fields.

No one spoke in opposition during floor debate Monday afternoon.

A few House Republicans also opposed two similar bills on the floor last month as part of a legislative package to commemorate Women’s History Month. Both of those measures would have established programs to help increase female participation in STEM fields. But one of the lawmakers in opposition warned of potential reverse sexism.