After days of pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike, House Republican leaders finally put a woman in charge of a committee Friday afternoon. But if Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the House leadership thought choosing Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) to lead the House administration committee — making her the sole female committee chair in the House — would put the issue to bed, they appear to have been mistaken.
Democrats and advocates for women in politics say Miller’s appointment feels like “tokenism” — and say the gender makeup of the House’s committee chairs will follow the GOP to 2014.
“I’m not sure which was worse: House Republicans refusing to have any women Chair a Legislative Committee or only appointing a woman to Chair the Congressional Housekeeping Committee,” said one Democratic official.
The Committee on House Administration oversees the running of the House as well as federal elections. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), the current chair, lost his bid for reelection on Nov. 6. That meant the House GOP leaders had to fill his slot at the top of the committee.
Normally who chairs the administration committee in the House would only be news inside the Beltway. But by choosing Miller to take over, House Republican leaders appeared to critics to be trying to clean up the mess they made when the so-called “major” House committee chairs were announced this week. That list was all male, leading to criticism from women in the Republican caucus as well as Democrats. Female House Republicans publicly pushed Boehner to appoint a women to the remaining committee chair slots.
For a party trying hard to grow its appeal among women, the committee chair announcement was seen as an indication the GOP is not ready to change by critics on the left. Miller’s appointment has done nothing to quiet that view.
“It’s too little too late at best and it’s tokenism at worst,” Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, told TPM. “The reality is that John Boehner has already demonstrated that he doesn’t understand that in the Republican Party, there are extremely competent, very able women who should be leaders.”
Republicans note that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) was elected by her caucus to be the number four Republican in the House and other female lawmakers were chosen for the Republican caucus leadership postions.
The GOP says the talk of committee chairs is a Democratic attempt to avoid talking about the apparently stalled budget talks.
“Another day and another distraction from Democrats,” Andrea Bozek, a spokesperson for the NRCC, told TPM. “Seems like they will stop at nothing to avoid talking about how they want to solve our fiscal crisis.”
But the lack of female major committee chairs has re-ignited criticism that the GOP isn’t interested in expanding the tent to include more women. Expect to be reminded of the committee chairs episode when the 2014 Congressional race heats up.
“Up and down the ticket, women voters rejected the GOP’s antiquated idea of what America should look like - and the GOP responded by doubling down on their 1950s vision,” said Jess McIntosh, spokesperson for EMILY’s List. “That’s why the GOP’s exclusion of women from committee chairs in the 113th Congress will definitely carry over to the 2014 election - women already know that the Republican Party doesn’t understand their daily lives or value their input and leadership. This move only reinforces that conclusion.”