Women poised to take charge in Dem majority

If Democrats win the House in November, 35 women are poised to lead committees and subcommittees in the next Congress — an historically high figure that would put female lawmakers in the driver's seat for some of the most pressing issues facing Congress and the country.

That number would almost triple the amount of GOP women currently holding similar positions, and it would mark a measurable achievement for Democratic lawmakers looking to take the “Year of the Woman” to new heights of power.

ADVERTISEMENT

The shift also would come at the outset of a crucial 2020 presidential cycle, when Democrats want to topple President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE — a radioactive figure in the eyes of many women’s groups — and use a long-elusive House majority to battle against the administration on issues as diverse as abortion rights, family separations at the U.S. border and the ongoing probe into Russia's election meddling.

Trump's unexpected victory in 2016 sparked a wave of interest from female candidates, who have jumped into races around the country, increasing the odds of a record number of women occupying congressional seats next year. And while much of the election-year discussion has been focused on those potential newcomers, a shift in legislative power to veteran lawmakers would likely prove even more significant.

“The critical issue is the agenda changing,” Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Progressives threaten to derail major Dem spending proposal GOP on defensive over Dem votes on policies geared toward women MORE (Conn.), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s health and labor panel, said Friday by phone.

The 14-term lawmaker rattled off a list of gender-based issues Democrats are vowing to tackle if they take control of the House, including women’s health care, domestic violence, equal pay and family leave. DeLauro said those were once considered “fringe issues” that went too long ignored or underfunded by Republicans who have controlled the chamber since 2011. She’s been passing out a pamphlet to fellow Democrats arguing that women are uniquely positioned to turn the ship around.

“When women take the gavel, Congress responds to the major issues facing working families today,” it reads.

Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteHouse Democrats probe Trump administration's funding of anti-abortion group Dems push back on White House suggesting they're 'not smart enough' for Trump's tax returns Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill MORE (D-Colo.) argued another benefit of having women in charge: They are simply more open to compromise, a breath of fresh air in a Congress practically defined by partisan conflict.

“I believe women tend to find common ground, work together and accomplish big tasks,” said DeGette, who’s in line to lead the oversight subpanel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“As more of us get elected to Congress and fill these critical leadership roles, chances are good that we will see less gridlock and more cooperation.”

They may have a chance to prove that theory next year.

Democratic women are set to take control of six full House committees if the lower chamber flips in November. They include Reps. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Democrats should be careful wielding more investigations Dem House chairs: Mueller report 'does not exonerate the president' MORE (N.Y.), of Financial Services; Nydia VelazquezNydia Margarita VelasquezDOJ inspector general to investigate Brooklyn detention center power outage Ocasio-Cortez storms Washington, winning headlines but rankling some colleagues Women poised to take charge in Dem majority MORE (N.Y.), of Small Business; Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM Pelosi, Dems unveil bill to bind Trump to Paris climate accord MORE (Texas), of Science, Space and Technology; Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenLawmakers request information on reported pardon for acting DHS secretary Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Dems crafting border proposal with focus on processing, counseling: report MORE (Calif.), of House Administration; and Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneySenate bill seeks to bring freedom back to banking Dems challenge bank CEOs on post-crisis reforms Carole King lobbies lawmakers in support of bill to protect the Rockies MORE (N.Y.), of the Joint Economic Committee.

Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrolling of Bill Barr shows how language is twisted to politics Barr says Mueller report will be released 'within a week' Live coverage: Barr faces House panel amid questions over Mueller report MORE (N.Y.) would become the first woman in history to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee.

In addition, 34 subcommittee gavels appear poised to go to Democratic women if the party takes the House. Those include spots atop five Appropriations panels, as well as influence over other major issues: digital commerce (Illinois Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Bipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals FTC has received 26,000 complaints about Facebook privacy violations since 2012 MORE); counterterrorism (New York Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements New York Rep. Maloney endorses Gillibrand for president Hispanic Dems ask for multi-agency meeting on family separations MORE); higher education (California Rep. Susan DavisSusan Carol DavisRepublican's campaign accused of racism for referring to Palestinian opponent as a 'national security threat' Overnight Defense: Gillibrand offers bill to let transgender troops serve | Pentagon ready to protect US personnel in Venezuela | Dems revive fight with Trump over Saudis Gillibrand introduces bipartisan bill to allow transgender military service MORE); and immigration (Lofgren).

The numbers could fluctuate, but Democrats tend to defer to seniority when it comes to naming committee heads — a system Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars MORE (Calif.) has largely honored — and challenges are rare.

Party leaders are practically giddy at the thought of positioning more women in power, and they’re taking a page from the late Ann Richards, a former Democratic governor of Texas: "If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re likely on the menu."

Pelosi on Friday went a step further.

"It is absolutely vital that women leaders take their rightful seat at the table: at the head of the table,” she told The Hill in an email.

The potential for 40 women in high posts contrasts starkly with the Republican-led Congress, where leaders have long been accused of empowering men at the expense of female voices. Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring Trump appears alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Time 100 list MORE (R-Ohio) came under fire in 2012 when Republicans seated an all-male slate of committee heads for the following Congress. Under pressure, he later appointed then-Rep. Candice MillerCandice Sue MillerWomen poised to take charge in Dem majority GOP puts Obama on notice over visa carve-outs Wilson endorses Foxx as next House Education chairman MORE (R-Mich.) to lead the Administration Committee.

Since then, Republican women have fared better. In the current Congress, three full committees are headed by women — Reps. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Juan Williams: The GOP's worsening problem with women How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit MORE (Tenn.) on Budget, Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxGOP on defensive over Dem votes on policies geared toward women House passes Paycheck Fairness Act Democrats want state majorities, here's how they're going to get them MORE (N.C.) on Education and the Workforce, and Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksHouse Republicans find silver lining in minority The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for MORE (Ind.) on Ethics — and nine others hold the gavel of subcommittees. Four of the 12 are retiring or seeking higher office after this Congress.

GOP leaders are quick to reject the notion that they’re out of touch with women’s issues. Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Overnight Energy: Wheeler vows to keep funds for Great Lakes cleanup | Inslee presses Trump on climate in House testimony | Dems seek more funds for Interior watchdog Inslee presses Trump on climate change in House testimony MORE (Wash.), the fourth-ranking House Republican, has long argued that GOP policies like ObamaCare repeal and tax cuts will do more to benefit women than the Democrats’ favored prescriptions. Her office declined to comment for this story, but in May she trumpeted the advantages of having more female representation on Capitol Hill.

“Being a mom makes politics real,” she told Fox News. “That’s why it’s so critical that more women and moms are elected to Congress."

The Republicans’ campaign arm also features several women in its leadership ranks. Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikDem gun efforts run into Senate GOP bulwark Overnight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine The 8 Republicans who voted against Trump's anti-ObamaCare push MORE (N.Y.) is heading recruitment efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), while Rep. Mimi Walters (Calif.) is the group’s vice chairperson.

NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt pushed back on the notion that Democrats somehow have a lock on women’s interests.

“Some of the best Republican candidates this cycle are women and we’re confident we’ll see them representing their districts for years to come,” Hunt said in an email.

Democrats have long touted the gender diversity of their caucus as evidence that they're the more inclusive party, one that better represents the different interests of the country at large. And they’re no strangers to propelling women to power.

Pelosi has led the party since 2003, rising in 2007 to become the first female Speaker in the nation’s history. And with several women already announcing bids for leadership positions next year, the number of women at the highest ranks of the party appears ripe to grow.

The 2018 cycle is the first since the anti-harassment "Me Too" movement swept the country, toppling titans of business, Hollywood, the media and a handful of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including the Democrats’ own veteran Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Reparations bill wins new momentum in Congress Overnight Health Care: Pelosi asks how to pay for single-payer | Liberal groups want Dems to go bigger on drug prices | Surprise medical bill legislation could come soon MORE (Mich.), who was forced out last year.

With Trump dogged by scandals that include allegations of sexual assault and paying hush money to a porn star, the would-be Democratic gavel holders see an opening on the campaign trail, vowing the tough oversight they say has been neglected under Republican rule.

“You can bet the President and his allies within the administration will not be getting a free pass,” DeGette said. “I’ll work to make these inquiries bipartisan when possible, but the priority has to be getting the answers our constituents want and deserve.”

DeLauro, citing gains the Democrats have made fighting child separations at the border, summarized the Democrats’ hopeful sentiments in one sentence: “Imagine what we could do if we were in the majority.”