Democrats are ready to install women in some of the highest positions available to the minority party in the U.S. House.
That will create a contrast with the party in power.
Unless Speaker John Boehner chooses a woman to run the Ethics Committee or the panel in charge of cafeterias and parking lots, there won’t be any chairwomen in the next Congress, which begins in January.
“Studies have indicated that some blocks of women voters were not with us” in the last election, said Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who was the only woman to lead a full committee in the House’s current session. “We’ve got to be more inclusive and I hope that our leadership gets that message and I think they will.”
She’s leaving her position as head of the Foreign Affairs Committee because of term limits imposed by party rules.
The House Republican Conference confirmed the appointment of 19 chairmen yesterday.
House Democrats are holding their organizational meeting today. They’re ready to re-elect their current leadership slate, which has been headed since 2003 by Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.
In addition, two women -- Nita Lowey of New York and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio -- are competing for the top minority-party job on the Appropriations Committee, and women are in line to either keep or be appointed to the top Democratic positions on the Financial Services Committee; Rules Committee; Science, Space and Technology Committee; and Small Business Committee.
Republicans still have two committee leadership positions open, and Speaker John Boehner of Ohio decides who will fill those jobs.
Both positions are known more for headaches than for power: chairman of the Ethics Committee, which judges lawmakers accused of wrongdoing, and the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the nuts and bolts of the multi-office complex on Capitol Hill.
“It’s not over yet,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview. “I think it’s a good opportunity to have some qualified female candidates there.”
The all-male lineup in the Republican-majority House stands in contrast to the Democratic-held Senate, where five women lead full committees. That number will probably rise to at least six in January.
“I’m hopeful there will be some women running subcommittees if the opportunity comes,” South Dakota Republican Representative Kristi Noem said in an interview.
Noem said she expressed her concerns about the lack of chairwomen to Boehner a few weeks ago.
Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of the Republican Steering Committee, said the lack of women “didn’t come up” when the panel that vets the candidates for committee leadership deliberated Tuesday.
“It’s nice to try to manufacture a story that we’re anti-women, until you look at our conference and look at our leadership structure,” he said yesterday in an interview.
The highest-ranking House Republican woman in the next Congress will be Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who will hold the No. 4 job, head of the Republican Conference. Also in leadership will be Conference Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Conference Secretary Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.
Only one woman, Representative Candice Miller of Michigan, vied for a full-committee chairmanship. She lost to Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who will head the Homeland Security Committee.
“I think you should always vote for the best person,” said that committee’s departing chairman, term-limited Peter King of New York. “We shouldn’t be basing these on quotas.”
McCaul called gender imbalance “an inside Washington baseball story.”
“Half of our leadership is female; that’s a big sea change,” he said. “You’re going to see them on the TV all the time with leadership.”
Jenkins said the same thing. “Fifty percent of our leadership is female, so I don’t think there’s an optics problem,” she said in an interview.