For your new book, Off the Sidelines, Hillary Clinton wrote the foreword. Tell us why.
When I was just a young lawyer, I saw her go to China and give the speech, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” and I knew how powerful it was for our first lady to take that message to the world from Beijing. That’s really what woke me up. Eventually I joined a political group, and I got to go to an event where Hillary was speaking. She looked out into the audience, and she said, “Decisions are being made every day in Washington. And if you’re not part of those decisions, and you don’t like what they decide, you have no one to blame but yourself.” It was the aha! moment for me. I felt like she was talking to me.
Violence against women is a signature issue for you, and it’s back in the news.
If you look at the issue of the NFL, the way that was handled was outrageous. It was clear that this player had beaten his wife [and] dragged her out of an elevator, and he was given a slap on the wrist. The real challenge is institutional bias—that institution after institution protects their own, closing ranks around the star player or the favored soldier or student. And it’s problematic because what it shows is how little we value women.
Does the core issue behind discrimination against women stem from respect?
It’s respect and lack of value. We see it in the simplest thing as equal pay. The fact is that women who do the same job as a man only get 77¢ on the dollar, and if you’re African American, 68¢, or Latina, 58¢. The solution to me is for women to be heard. We change outcomes. When I was a young congresswoman, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi put five women on the Armed Services Committee. We were discussing issues of military readiness. My male colleagues often focused on how many ships, how many aircraft. But Gabby Giffords said a doctor at a base in my district told her 70 percent of men and women going back into combat aren’t mentally ready. I asked why military divorce and suicide rates are so high. It became a more complete debate. The combination of male and female perspectives results in better decision-making.
Do you think Hillary, if she runs, will make equality a campaign theme?
I certainly hope so. One of the debates in the book is about “having it all.” I really dislike the framing of it in that way. What are women having? A second slice of pie? We’re not having anything, we’re doing—we’re doing it all. What we really have to talk about is how do we support women and their efforts, because most workplace rules are stuck in the Mad Men era. But in 8 out of 10 families today, moms are working. In 4 out of 10, they’re the primary or sole wage earner. What I would love to see in the next presidential campaign is discussions of income inequality and the real drag on the economy because we’re not supporting women and families in the workplace.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, do you support the president’s response to Islamic State?
[Islamic State] is a serious, metastasizing threat. It’s something that is fast-moving, extremely well-funded. It’s a threat to American interests, both long-term and short-term. And I do appreciate a lot of the response the president has laid out, in terms of engaging the Arab world and making it very clear that this has to be a Sunni-led effort in whatever battles we decide to engage in.
But you see a risk in arming moderate Syrian rebels?
Without a doubt. And we’ve seen this in the past. After [the U.S. spent] years training the Iraqi forces, [Islamic State] came along and cut through them like butter. I don’t know that it’s effective in the short term to think that if you train a certain sector of moderate rebels, those weapons will stay in their hands.
What are the consequences of attacking Islamic State?
Many Americans are war-weary. They don’t want to see boots on the ground, but they understand the threat. And there are many strategies you can use in terms of engagement, in terms of special forces missions, in terms of intelligence gathering, that could be very powerful. I don’t want to see our weapons used against our men in the next battle.