The all-male group of Republican senators working to craft a compromise health-care bill has created a public relations problemfor the GOP. With no women among the 13 lawmakers chosen by the leadership, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been criticized for a lack of gender diversity in a group that is dealing with such issues as whether insurance plans must cover maternity care and whether women can be charged more for insurance.
This is not the first time Republicans have been criticized for crafting policy without any women in the room. But the absence of GOP women in high-level policy talks and public photo-ops reflects a larger problem: There are very few Republican women in Congress, so when Republicans control the majority, not many women have access to power. Right now, just 26 of the 104 women in Congress — 25 percent — are Republicans.
There are a variety of explanations for this disparity. Scholars have pointed to the fact that since the feminist movement the Democratic Party has come to be seen as the party of women’s rights. Women’s groups associated with the party — from NOW to Emily’s List — prioritize electing women. Other scholars point to the political pipeline, where more of the women in the jobs that lead to a run for office are Democrats. Democratic women in state legislative office, a common steppingstone to Congress, are also a better ideological fit for their party’s congressional delegation than are Republican women, who are more likely to be moderates.