Why Donald Trump Should Appoint More GOP Women to His Administration
In his victory speech, President-elect Trump promised all Americans that he would provide them with the opportunity of realizing their fullest potential. To achieve this goal, the Republican Party would be wise to fix its structural and decades-long problems with women. It’s time for the GOP to dust off its “binders full of women” and get to work. Not only is it the party’s disconnect with female voters, it’s also a product of the lack of Republican women in powerful positions. Running circles around the GOP in this regard, the Democratic Party has succeeded in promoting its female senators and representatives effectively, and had Secretary Clinton prevailed, she promised to appoint a half-female cabinet. By contrast, Mr. Trump has floated a cabinet almost entirely composed of male CEOs and politicians, and the prospects for Republican women in Congress are not much better.
Although women comprise more than half of the U.S. population, they represent only 20 percent of Congress. Moreover, Democrats disproportionately prop up that number, outnumbering the GOP 76 to 28. Not only does the GOP field fewer congresswomen, but those few are also in less powerful positions than their Democratic counterparts. Democrats have had Nancy Pelosi as speaker and minority leader since 2003, while only three of 42 committees are led by women in the current Republican-controlled Congress.
Worse yet, there is no next generation of Republican women politicians to welcome into the ranks of power. The dearth of female politicians in the GOP isn’t just at the top — the lack of Republican women actually worsens as you look to the open House seats that serve as a “farm system” for political parties.
Republican leaders are also responsible for failing to promote qualified women already in government. Democratic women led eight of 20 Senate committees in the last Congress, including key committees such as appropriations, budget, and intelligence. Once again, the problem is worse for the GOP, as Republican women are nearly absent from leadership and control just 3.5 percent of discretionary spending in this GOP-controlled Congress. By comparison, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski controlled the entire discretionary budget in the last Congress as chair of the full appropriations committee.
Yet there is one area of traditional but now waning Republican strength — national security — where GOP leaders could empower women. Meeting America’s national security challenges with expertise and experience is more important now than ever, as the country prepares to meet a unique set of threats such as the spread of al Qaeda and ISIS, renewed Russian and Iranian aggression, and a more combative China — all with an underfunded U.S. military.
But no woman has ever chaired the armed services committee or the defense appropriations (spending) subcommittee in either the House or the Senate since they were established in 1946 and 1955, respectively.
Why does this matter?
The GOP has not offered effective solutions to the country’s national security problems in recent years. Republicans failed to manage post-Iraq war reconstruction, torture of detainees, the administration’s inaction in Syria, North Korean nuclear development, and containment of Iran. More women in power means a fresh look at problems and a higher likelihood of compromise with the other side. It still takes 60 votes in the Senate to effectively get any work done so the two parties will have to find common ground.
With a GOP sweep of Washington, opportunities for change abound. The chairmanship of the defense appropriations subcommittee is open, and two members are vying for the job: Hal Rogers from Kentucky and Kay Granger from Texas. Mr. Rogers has the upper hand in terms of the traditional boxes checked, such as seniority, fundraising, and party loyalty.
But expertise should matter when considering the merits of the next House defense appropriations chair. Given the U.S. military’s size and complexity, this is not a federal agency that can be understood overnight. Granger has over a decade’s experience in national security, from early homeland security reform efforts to State Department funding as the chair of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Most importantly, she possesses intimate knowledge of the U.S. military above and beyond the parochial interests of her district.
The GOP has several women beyond Granger with real national security experience serving in Congress right now: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) among them. Exiting Congress but a sharp legal and defense mind who should absolutely be included in the Trump cabinet is Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). It would be wise politically and substantively for the new president and the GOP to make good use of the available talent of Republican women in Congress to buttress our country’s defenses in the years to come.
Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at the AEI Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies. She worked previously in the House, Senate, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff.
Image: Creative Commons/Flickr.