McConnell downplays all-male healthcare working group

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJon Stewart rips into McConnell for saying he's 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 victim fund Jon Stewart rips into McConnell for saying he's 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 victim fund Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat 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.

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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 CapitoBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up 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 CollinsOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission 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 SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw 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."