House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers readily admits the GOP needs more gender diversity. The Washington Republican told CQ Roll Call recently in a wide-ranging interview she is working hard to help recruit strong women to run for Congress, and that she is excited by the 2014 field so far.
She also said it’s a new development generally for women to get involved in politics at all.
“I was the 200th woman ever elected to the House of Representatives in the history of this country,” McMorris Rodgers said. “And that was in 2004. I was the 200th, OK? Out of 11,000 that have served in the House of Representatives. OK? I was the 200th. So this is still relatively new to have women serving in these offices, running for office.”
There are currently only 19 female Republican lawmakers serving in the House. Why aren’t there more? McMorris Rodgers chalks it up to a few factors, though she wouldn’t discuss specifically why she thinks House Democrats have historically had an easier time recruiting and retaining women in their party and at the highest levels of leadership.
“When you look at who is serving as executives in this country, 4 out of the 5 women who are governors are Republicans, 6 out of 10 lieutenant governors who are women are Republicans,” she said, rattling off the statistics without pause. “So the problem is, we’re not telling our stories sometimes as well as we should, that [Republicans] do have women, impressive leaders, in offices across the country. We need to highlight it more.”
She is working with female recruits for the midterm elections.
“Mimi Walters out of California … she’s gonna be a superstar,” she said. “We have Martha McSally [in Arizona], women running down in Georgia, up in New York. … I know there are some dynamic women running on the Republican ticket.”
McMorris Rodgers said part of the challenge in convincing women to get involved in national politics is traditional anxiety over juggling a career with caring for a family.
“There’s a number of us who have young families,” she said, listing Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Martha Roby of Alabama. “We can talk to women that are trying to make these decisions and say to them, ‘Well, we’re making it work.’ And I think what you’ll hear from all of us is, it’s not that different than being a working mom in any other position. It’s higher profile, at times you’re in the news and you’re on the television.”
There’s also the travel component — being a member of Congress means being in Washington, D.C., during most weeks, only to return home on weekends when family time can often be interrupted by obligatory constituent meet-and-greets.
“There are a lot of working moms, I think, who have to travel, and families that are trying to figure out how to balance all of that,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I think every family has to figure out how to make it work for themselves.”
McMorris Rodgers herself has a unique set-up: Instead of having her family live in her Spokane-area district, she lives with her husband and three young children in D.C. She has a 6-year-old son with Down syndrome and two daughters, a 3 year old and a 4 month old. Her husband Brian, a retired Navy commander, serves as the stay-at-home dad.
The arrangement has helped McMorris Rodgers as she has ascended the leadership ladder: “It makes all the difference,” she said.
At the same time, she came to Capitol Hill when she was single and had the luxury of being able to decide to seek higher office without worrying about how to “have it all.”
“I’ve asked myself the question, ‘Would I do this?'” she said. “I was elected to Congress when I was single, and when I was making that decision … I didn’t have the family as a consideration at the time.”
(Read the full story on her leadership goals here .)