More women make it to Con­gress — and face grid­lock

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP-ED - Mar­sha Mar­sha Mercer writes from Wash­ing­ton. You may con­tact her at mar­ © 2018, Mar­sha Mercer. All rights re­served.

The day af­ter Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2017, half a mil­lion women marched on Wash­ing­ton. The new pres­i­dent largely ig­nored them.

He bragged about the size of his own in­au­gu­ra­tion crowd but didn’t men­tion the hun­dreds of thou­sands of women in pink hats on the streets protest­ing him and his poli­cies — un­til the fol­low­ing day.

“Watched the protests yes­ter­day but was un­der the im­pres­sion that we just had an elec­tion! Why didn’t th­ese peo­ple vote? Celebs hurt the cause badly,” he tweeted.

Be care­ful what you wish for, Mr. Trump.

Many of the protesters prob­a­bly did vote — for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Then, they turned their dis­ap­point­ment and anger into ac­tion. Demo­cratic women ran — and won — in record num­bers for Con­gress.

At least 118 women will serve in the House and Se­nate when the new Con­gress con­venes in Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics. Cur­rently 110 women serve in Con­gress.

In Vir­ginia on Tues­day, three Demo­cratic women can­di­dates flipped re­li­ably red House dis­tricts to blue.

Elaine Luria, a re­tired Navy com­man­der, beat Rep. Scott Tay­lor in the Hamp­ton Roads sub­urbs.

Abi­gail Span­berger, self­de­scribed as a for­mer CIA op­er­a­tive and a Girl Scout leader, nar­rowly de­feated tea party fa­vorite Rep. Dave Brat in the Rich­mond sub­urbs.

And Jen­nifer Wex­ton, a state sen­a­tor since 2014, rolled over Repub­li­can Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock in the North­ern Vir­ginia sub­urbs.

Pre­cisely how many women will be in Con­gress de­pends on still-un­de­cided races. One thing is clear, though: Trump can’t ig­nore women any­more.

Women vot­ers helped drive the blue wave, such as it was, by gen­er­ally choos­ing Democrats for Con­gress. Fifty-five per­cent of women voted for a Demo­cratic con­gres­sional can­di­date, and only 41 per­cent for a Repub­li­can, the AP’s exit poll re­ported. Men’s votes were more evenly split.

In 2016, Trump won 53 per­cent of white women’s votes. In the midterms, 50 per­cent of white women voted for a Demo­crat for Con­gress and 46 per­cent for a Repub­li­can, ac­cord­ing to exit polls.

Repub­li­cans ac­knowl­edge the party is turn­ing off white, col­lege-ed­u­cated, sub­ur­ban women. For­mer House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor, RVir­ginia, who lost to Brat four years ago, blames “cul­tural sig­nals” sent by the party.

It’s in­cum­bent on GOP leg­is­la­tors to step up with an agenda both men and women can sup­port, in­clud­ing help for child care and health care, Can­tor told Bloomberg Ra­dio Wed­nes­day.

But with the House in Demo­cratic hands for the first time since 2010, Trump will need to work with Democrats or watch his agenda grind to a halt. The GOP strength­ened its con­trol of the Se­nate Tues­day by two or three sen­a­tors, but the House has the power of the purse.

The in­com­ing fresh­man class of House Democrats is re­fresh­ingly di­verse — with the first two Mus­lim women, first two Na­tive Amer­i­can women, and the first black woman mem­ber from Mas­sachusetts. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York is the youngest mem­ber of Con­gress at 29.

It’s tempt­ing to feel ex­u­ber­ant about the new at­ti­tudes and poli­cies the fresh­men women will bring, but the re­al­ity is sober­ing. Stale­mate is more likely than progress in di­vided gov­ern­ment.

Be­fore any­thing else, the new mem­bers must de­cide whether to sup­port House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, an ef­fec­tive party builder and a light­ning rod for crit­ics, for speaker.

Span­berger is among the few newly elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives who promises not to sup­port Pelosi “un­der any cir­cum­stances.” Luria and Wex­ton have said they’ll wait and see.

Trump, of all peo­ple, says Pelosi de­serves to be speaker and he’ll even help her get elected to the post. He claims he’s sin­cere; oth­ers think he’s set­ting her up.

Pelosi ex­pects to re­gain the speaker’s gavel. She says sub­poena power may be­come a ne­go­ti­at­ing tool as Demo­cratic com­mit­tee chair­men dig into Trump’s busi­nesses and his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trump threat­ens a “war­like pos­ture” if Democrats in­ves­ti­gate him, vow­ing to re­tal­i­ate with in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Democrats.

“They can play that game, but we can play it bet­ter, be­cause we have a thing called the United States Se­nate,” he said.

Such talk by both sides makes grid­lock al­most in­evitable — and no­body voted for that.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s mo­tor­cade passes Capi­tol Hill. Sud­denly fac­ing life un­der di­vided gov­ern­ment, Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers talked bi­par­ti­san­ship but then bluntly pre­viewed the fault lines to come.


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