There’s no nice-lady cau­cus in Con­gress

The News Tribune - - Nation & World - BY SU­SAN CHIRA New York Times

The 116th Con­gress will have a record num­ber of women. So that means more women will bring their vaunted abil­ity to com­pro­mise and work across the aisle. Right?

No, as it turns out, women are no more im­mune to the forces in­ten­si­fy­ing par­ti­san­ship than men. That’s what po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists have found. And some of the pos­i­tive qual­i­ties women are praised for bring­ing to pub­lic of­fice – col­le­gial­ity, col­lab­o­ra­tion, re­lent­less work ethic – aren’t born of some sort of in­nate gen­dered good­ness. Chalk it up to self-preser­va­tion. As in other fields, women in pol­i­tics of­ten feel that they are held to a higher stan­dard than men – and that they may lose their seats if they don’t de­liver leg­is­la­tion.

Rather than an out­break of bi­par­ti­san­ship, party po­lar­iza­tion among women could well in­crease. That’s be­cause the ma­jor­ity of women elected are Democrats, many Re­pub­li­can women elected are con­ser­va­tives who’ve em­braced Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, and both par­ties face pres­sures from their base to tack left or right.

It is true that women in Con­gress play on soft­ball teams that in­clude Democrats and Repub­li­cans – with no fewer than four cap­tains last year, two Democrats (Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York and Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz of Florida) and two Repub­li­cans (Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia and Ileana RosLe­hti­nen of Florida). The men, on the other hand, play par­ti­san ball. Women in the Se­nate gather for a reg­u­lar din­ner, and there is a long-stand­ing bi­par­ti­san Women’s Cau­cus. But that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into bi­par­ti­san­ship on votes or even spon­sor­ing bills.

“It’s Wash­ing­ton lore that at cock­tail par­ties you de­velop these friends, ev­ery­one holds hands and sings ‘Kum­baya’ – but you’re first and fore­most a par­ti­san when you get to Capi­tol Hill,” said Jen­nifer L. Law­less, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia.

She and a col­league eval­u­ated bi­par­ti­san­ship on sev­eral mea­sures, in­clud­ing how of­ten men and women co-spon­sor bills with mem­bers of the op­po­site party and whether men and women opted to travel on of­fi­cial con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tions with mem­bers of both par­ties, rather than stick to one-party travel. They found no dif­fer­ences be­tween the sexes.

Tracy Os­born, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Iowa, notes that most re­search has found fe­male politi­cians have grown apart ide­o­log­i­cally. In her study an­a­lyz­ing roll-call votes in state leg­is­la­tures, she found in­creas­ing po­lar­iza­tion. Mod­er­ate Re­pub­li­can women once joined forces with Democrats to sup­port such is­sues as abor­tion rights, but mod­er­ate women have felt in­creas­ingly un­wel­come in the Re­pub­li­can Party, said Michele Sw­ers, a pro­fes­sor of gov­ern­ment at Ge­orge­town. Democrats are in their own tug of war be­tween pro­gres­sives and cen­trists.

A database of all bills in­tro­duced to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 1963 to 2009 showed that women not only pro­pose more leg­is­la­tion than men, but they also do so on a wider range of is­sues. That re­search, con­ducted by Mary Lay­ton Atkin­son and Ja­son Harold Win­dett, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina at Char­lotte, found that women who were suc­cess­ful at de­ter­ring chal­lengers in pri­maries in­tro­duced twice as many bills as men.

They de­duced that women feel they must demon­strate more ac­com­plish­ments than men to stay in of­fice.

In­deed, stud­ies have found that women in Con­gress are highly ef­fec­tive – they steer more fed­eral spend­ing to their dis­tricts than male leg­is­la­tors and have higher rates of pas­sage of their spon­sored bills, for ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to Mirya R. Hol­man, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Tulane Uni­ver­sity.

(The only ex­cep­tion is bills on is­sues af­fect­ing women, health, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial wel­fare, which may en­counter in­sti­tu­tional road­blocks).

“We’re still par­ti­san – just bet­ter,” Law­less said of women in Con­gress.

Women in Con­gress say they bring their per­spec­tive to fill yawn­ing gaps and pre­vi­ous blind spots in leg­is­la­tion. Is­sues at the fore­front of the Democrats’ agenda af­fect women dis­pro­por­tion­ately – more women live in pover- ty, more re­ceive Medi­care or Med­ic­aid be­cause they live longer than men, and many women over­see health care and ed­u­ca­tion in their house­holds.

Vet­eran con­gress­women cite ex­am­ples of their ad­vo­cacy. Rep. Bar­bara Lee, D-Calif., said she presses to make sure that clin­i­cal tri­als in­clude women of color, since they have of­ten been left out of med­i­cal stud­ies. Sw­ers noted that Sens. Gil­li­brand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Mis­souri and for­mer Sen. Kelly Ay­otte of New Hamp­shire were driv­ing forces be­hind hear­ings and leg­is­la­tion on sex­ual as­sault in the mil­i­tary, even if their spe­cific so­lu­tions dif­fered.

Of 83 women in­ter­viewed by po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Kelly Dittmar and her co-au­thors for a re­cent book on women in Con­gress, “A Seat at the Ta­ble,” many said they fo­cused on get­ting things done – and build­ing per­sonal ties can help them try to find some as­pect of pol­icy they can col­lab­o­rate on. So even if the over­all num­ber of bi­par­ti­san bills isn’t dif­fer­ent for women than for men, they do feel as if col­lab­o­ra­tion mat­ters.

Rep. Grace Meng, DN.Y., said: “It’s noth­ing sci­en­tif­i­cally proven, but I do feel women leg­is­la­tors have a very dif­fer­ent dynamic when they’re work­ing to­gether. I have a net­work of women mem­bers, and when we have ideas we bounce them off each other and no one’s wor­ried about some­one steal­ing credit.”


JUST BET­TER. Jen­nifer L. Law­less, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, on women in Con­gress


Deb Haa­land is one of two Na­tive Amer­i­can women who marked his­toric con­gres­sional vic­to­ries as a record num­ber of women were elected to the U.S. House. But an in­crease of women in Con­gress doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean there will be an in­crease in bi­par­ti­san­ship, re­search shows. Col­le­gial­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion aren’t born of in­nate gen­dered good­ness.

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