17 Times Women In The Senate Slayed The Competition

No duels-to-the-death necessary.

17 Times Women In The Senate Slayed The Competition

If only women were capable of violence, the Senate — one half of what has been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" — would be playing host to a cage match in the coming weeks.

Or, at least, this is the sentiment espoused by Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold, who apparently took umbrage this week at female senators representing, what they believe to be, the best interests of their constituents. Or, in other words, doing their jobs. As A Plus reported last week, a previous effort to push the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to a vote faltered when three Senate Republicans pulled their support. All three were women.

Per The Washington Examiner, during an interview with a local Corpus Christi radio station, Farenthold attributed the failure of the effort to "some female senators in the Northeast," and then said: "If it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style."

While Farenthold's comment was likely said in jest — one hopes — it remains a question why Farenthold felt it necessary to clarify that the previous failed efforts were the fault of female senators. (It's also worth noting that Rep. Lisa Murkowski represents Alaska — a state that is certainly northerly, but not exactly "east." Rep. Shelley Capito's home state of West Virginia also seems to be stretching the label.)

So, with female senators being blamed for a stumbling block in the passage of a bill that may yet pass, it seemed particularly appropriate to pull together a list of times that female senators slayed the competition while serving their country. 

Without, of course, the need to pull an "Aaron Burr."


1. When they banded together and changed the conversation.

Although Obamacare's fate still hangs in the balance of Senate deliberations and Murkowski, Capito, and Sen. Susan Collins's votes going forward may change, together making an impact.

2. When they marched.

Politicians from across the country joined in on the Women's March this year. Although some took to the main stage, others, such as Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, were seen demonstrating alongside their fellow marchers.

3. When they were the only ones to show up to work.

One snowy 2016 day, following a blizzard in Washington, D.C., Murkowski told The Washington Post that 100 percent of the senators present in the Senate chamber were women — an amazing figure considering the fact that only 21 percent of the Senate is female.  

"We came in this morning, looked around and thought, something is different this morning. Different in a good way, I might add," Murkowski told the publication. "But something is genuinely different, and I think it's genuinely fabulous. So perhaps it just speaks to the heartiness of women, that you put on your boots and put your hat on and get out, slog through the mess that is out there."

4. When they persisted.

In a move that made headlines around the world, in February, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) continued reading a 1986 letter by civil rights activist Coretta Scott King even after Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell asked her to stop. He said that by reading the letter, which was about then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, during a debate over his record, she was impugning another senator. 

In words that would become famous (and the title of a children's book), McConnell justified voting to silence her by saying, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

5. When they stood up for new moms.

When in May some (male) members of Congress suggested that American men should not be responsible for maternity coverage, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) nailed her explanation of why it makes sense for everyone to buy in and support new families with their insurance, regardless of gender.

"The premise of insurance is to spread the risk. It's the premise of homeowner's insurance, of car insurance, and of health insurance,"  Shaheen told Cosmopolitan. "It's one reason why it's important to have insurance when you're healthy, so that when you get sick, you won't go sign up just when you get sick, because that increases the cost for everyone. This is a similar issue."

6. When they fought for homeless youth.

When pop singer Cyndi Lauper performed in Bangor, Maine earlier this month, she couldn't resist calling Collins up on stage to thank her for her hard work. 

As noted by The Washington Post, Lauper had previously testified at the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee, which Collins chairs and which addresses issues of homelessness.

"Now this woman, this woman is a hero. And she's my hero," Lauper told her audience, later adding: "She helped us so much with the LGBT homeless youth and all the homeless kids."

7. When they encouraged other women to run.

In May, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) began posting a video series filled with tips for women considering running for office for the first time, a companion project to her Off The Sidelines political action committee, also aimed at getting women on the ballot.

"Just literally having 51 percent of women in Congress representing the diversity of our country: You would have different issues raised, different solutions being offered, you'd have less partisan bickering," she told New York Magazine in April. "Because our disposition is to help. When we do our legislation, we're not trying to figure out how can I use this to run against you; we say, 'How can we pass this bill to help both of our constituents?' Our economy would be stronger, because we'd be dealing with things like paid leave and equal pay legitimately, as opposed to just using it as a talking point."

8. When they didn't back down.

During a June intelligence hearing exchange reminiscent of Warren's own moment of persistence, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) refused to stop questioning Dep. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when asked, prompting an outcry against Harris's colleagues who said she wasn't being "courteous" enough on Twitter.

Warren herself weighed in, tweeting, "Keep fighting, Kamala!"

9. When they made adversity work in their favor.

Following the Rosenstein incident, and a separate reprimand by her colleagues while she was questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Harris fought back by tweeting the following message: "The women of the United States Senate will not be silenced when seeking the truth." 

Her tweet was accompanied by a link to a donation page supporting 10 Democratic female senators.

10. When they continued serving, despite illness.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is in the news today for flying back to Washington D.C. following a diagnosis of brain cancer, and he's far from the first senator to display that kind of heroism. For starters, Sen. Mazie Hirono and Sen. Claire McCaskill, from Hawaii and Missouri respectively, have both also continued working through treatment for cancer.

11. When they kept up tradition.

Social media users applauded Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) commitment when she was pictured wearing a seersucker suit during former FBI Director James Comey's hearing in June. She was partaking in Seersucker Thursday, a bipartisan Senate tradition dating back to 1996 when the then-Senate majority leader wanted to show the nation that the legislature "wasn't just a bunch of dour folks wearing dark suits."

Feinstein led the charge in encouraging women to join in on the action in 2004, and personally gifted at least 11 other female senators seersucker suits.

12. When they made history.

Even today, in 2017, many of the women currently serving broke down barriers by taking office. Sen. Debbie Fischer (R-NE) was the first female senator elected to a full-term in her state, while Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was the first woman elected to Congress from hers. In 2016, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) became the first Latina elected to the legislative body — and we're just barely scratching the glass ceiling's surface with this list.

13. When they stood up for female inmates.

This month, Warren, alongside Sen. Cory Booker, introduced the Dignity For Incarcerated Women Act, which, if passed, would prevent prisons from shackling pregnant women or placing them in solitary confinement. It would also require the provision of free, quality sanitary products.

"The notion that a woman should have to take the tiny little bit of resources she has on her commissary card, and choose between sanitary products and the cost of a phone call home to wish her children goodnight, is just wrong," Warren told Rolling Stone.

14. When they stepped up to bat.

This June, following a shooting targeting Republican colleagues practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game, the women's Congressional Softball Game set a fundraising record. As reported by PBS, the game raised over $300,000 for the Young Survivors Coalition, a charity that benefits women with breast cancer.

"I can't really overstate what a great team-building effort it is," Capito told PBS. "We ought to do more of it. [And] a lot of the folks that came out to watch the other members, they had fun too."

15. When they crossed party lines.

Although the Bernie Sanders-proposed amendment that would have prevented the Senate from cutting Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare was eventually defeated, Collins was the only Republican senator to vote in its favor in January.

"Unfortunately, many of the votes on the budget resolution are designed only to score political points," Collin's spokeswoman said in a statement, according to HuffPost. "The bottom line is Senator Collins has long supported efforts to repeal and replace the ACA and is working to do so in a way that does not create a gap in coverage for individuals who are currently insured and who rely on that coverage."

16. When they defended women in the military.

Gillibrand, a noted champion of sexual assault survivors, took Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller to task in March following the nude photo scandal that shook the armed services. A Facebook group comprising over 30,000 current and former Marine Corps members had been discovered circulating nude photographs of enlisted women without their consent.

"When you say to us, 'it's got to be different,' that rings hollow. I don't know what you mean when you say that. Why does it have to be different? Because you all of a sudden feel that it has to be different?" Gillibrand asked him at the time, demanding a new level of accountability. "Who has been held responsible? Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody?"

Neller responded, saying that he took responsibility.

"We're going to have to change how we see ourselves and how we treat each other," Neller said. "That's a lame answer, but ma'am, that's the best that I can tell you right now. We've got to change, and that's on me."

17. When they got together over wine.

Per CNN, two former senators, Democrat Barbara Mikulski and Republican Bailey Hutchison, fostered a "bipartisan sisterhood" by starting a dinner club that all serving female senators were invited to join. Wine is always on the menu.

Although the dinners were initially geared at sharing stories and building relationships, a number of pieces of bipartisan legislation were made possible by the meals, including the landmark Violence Against Women Act.

We can't imagine a better way for our favorite female leaders to relax and take stock than with fellow members of Congress and a glass of Merlot.

Cover image via Shutterstock/ Andrew Cline.


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