EP. 52 Michele Swers: The Gender Gap In Congress
NICIE PANETTA: This is The MidPod: The Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. We are two moms traveling America to chronicle what may be the most important set of elections in our lifetimes. The midterms in November 2018. In these elections we the people have the chance to elect a new generation of leaders, leaders capable of reinvigorating the U.S. Congress, our first branch of government. We've got a great interview for you this week. But first just a quick reminder if you haven't already head on over to themidpod.com/newsletter and sign up for our new weekly newsletter. Heather's doing an awesome job with it. This week's interview is with Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. Her research and teaching encompasses Congress congressional elections and women in politics. She's written two books on women and representation in Congress. Her book The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress explores gender differences in policymaking on issues related to women, children, and families. Her book Women in the Club: Gender and Policymaking in the Senate examines the impact of gender on senators' policymaking activities in the areas of women's issues, national security, and judicial nominations. I met with her at her office at Georgetown University.
NICIE: Michele Swers thank you so much for spending time with The MidPod today we really appreciate it.
MICHELE SWERS: Thank you very much for having me.
NICIE: Tell us how you got into the field of political science, what sparked your interest in the first place?
SWERS: So I research women in Congress and what sparked my interest in this area was around the time that I was in graduate school, there was a big theory in political science that it didn't matter who you elected to office, anybody would do because they all have to respond to their district's interests. And at that same time I was looking at Emily's List and this is the early 90s and around the time of the 1992 Year of the Woman and I'm noticing that wow they're raising a lot of money if any Democrat will do. And at the time they're raising just as much as the NRA, which had Charlton Heston as their president, and of course he played Moses in The Ten Commandments, so if you got Moses raising money for you and Emily's List is doing just about as well I thought, "Well there really has to be something going on here." So I went to get my Ph.D. and my first book was basically about well, is there any difference in what men and women do once you take account for the other things that we know influence members of Congress, characteristics of their district, partisanship, things like that.
NICIE: Well I think one of the main things we want to talk about is women of the Republican Party, a subject you've spent a lot of time on and you're really leading expert on, and maybe it'd be worth getting your reflections on why you think Republican women are especially important right now.
SWERS: So the Republican Party over time has really changed. So when you looked at Republican women in Congress if you're looking in the early 1990s there's about the same number of Republican and Democratic women which is to say not very many but approximately equivalent. The once that 1992 year of the woman election happens, you get an increase in Democratic women that keeps going up, which is odd to say there's a tie in but Democratic women make up about 30 percent of the Democratic caucus whereas Republican women have been totally flat at about 9 or 10 percent of the caucus even though Republicans have done extremely well in recent congressional elections, so you have the Republican Revolution in 1994, the Tea Party wave in 2010. But the number of Republican women coming into office has been just flat. And this time around of course in 2018 most of the momentum is on the Democratic side because when you have a midterm election people are generally voting how they feel about the president of the United States, and this particular president, President Trump, has gotten a lot of backlash particularly from women and so it's spurred a lot of Democratic women to run for office. Now the same obviously is not true on the Republican side. The other difference that we see amongst Republican women is that the Republican women of the early 1990s were fairly moderate. So if you compare their voting records the types of bills that they sponsor to Republican men, Republican women in the House and Senate as a group tended to be more moderate than Republican men and you would also see a certain number of Republican women who were pro-choice on abortion in issues of reproductive rights. We don't see that anymore. So by around 2000, 2002 or so, Republican women in the house become just as conservative as Republican men. Republican women in the Senate are still more moderate but there are very few of them. So we're really just talking about these days Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, perhaps Shelley Moore Capito.
NICIE: I really want to dive into some of that history but I thought I would bounce off you a couple of things that we've been hearing on the trail, and one is from particularly strategists in a recent episode we interviewed Ali Lapp and Liesl Hickey and they posited that Republican women voters in suburban districts are perhaps one of the most persuadable blocks in this 2018 cycle, does that sound right to you? And what do you think of the implications for the Republican outcome in this election given that you say the candidate recruiting has been a little bit slow?
SWERS: So Republican suburban women have often been seen as a swing group so if you've heard of the soccer mom or the security mom for previous years these are generally white, college-educated, suburban women and they are the sought-after group in some of these areas that have competitive races. So right near where we are in Washington D.C., there's a race between Barbara Comstock in Virginia's 10th District and Jennifer Wexton. And it's a difficult race for Barbara Comstock because she does have to be concerned about whether the college-educated suburban white women out there are very angered by the things that President Trump is doing and since that district is right near Washington D.C. there's a lot of media coverage about that, the women's marches that have been here. And so she's tried to put herself in a position to attract those women. She's been very active on the issues of sexual harassment within Congress. She was someone who who did a lot in legislating and trying to get the House to change their rules. So she's been supportive of these kinds of issues. She voted against the Republican overhaul of the healthcare Obamacare bill for the tax cut. So as a Republican she's kind of done what you can do and it really comes down to whether the wave of you know sentiment against President Trump is just going to wash her away because she has an R next to her name.
NICIE: That's a perfect example. And it's an example of some of the work that you do chronicling how women pick their battles legislatively and I'd love to get back to that. The other stage-setter that I wanted to lay out is bigger picture the future of the two-party system in the U.S. and the importance of the Republican Party. Do you think there could be a successful third party at some point or a party that would replace the GOP? Or do you, is it your view that really the GOP is it in terms of the the right-of-center party that we're gonna have here?
SWERS: So in general I do think that it's a two party system and the thing that Donald Trump did if you compare him say, to Ross Perot, they were similar in both being outsiders, businessman all of that. You know Ross Perot ran an independent campaign, got a decent percentage of the vote but no electoral college votes. So Donald Trump realized that you need to be able to take over one of the major parties and that is what he was able to do in that you know led to his success and a a possible remaking of the Republican Party. So he has changed the Republican coalition. It used to be this kind of three-legged stool of social conservatives, economic conservatives in terms of free market and free trade, and anti-communism. And the social conservative leg of the stool is still there. But the free market, free trade is a little wobbly as well as the anti-communism, you know, things going on with Russia and what have you. So he is changing the party and that coalition is changing. Right? The labor union Democrats are possibly leaving the Democratic Party and responsive to a populist message. So he's bringing that populist message into the party and mixing populist elements with the Chamber of Commerce crowd and the country-club Republicans that people are used to looking at. So it seems like coalitions of the parties are changing but it's not likely that you're going to change a two-party system because the way our system works is if I get the most votes, I win. Not even if I get 50 percent, I mean Maine has started with ranked choice in these kinds of things but in general it's if I get the most votes, in some of the southern states particularly you have runoffs in their primaries and you really need the support of a party for that recruitment, for mobilizing voters, the expensive races if it's going to be a competitive race it's going to be very very expensive. Outside groups come in but those outside groups are really associated with the party. So you have, you know congressional leadership PAC and some of these other PACs but they're clearly associated with particular leaders on the Hill AND particular members of the Democratic and Republican Party.
NICIE: So is it fair to say as citizens we all have a stake in the future of the GOP?
SWERS: Yes I would say so because you want to see how that coalition is going to shake out and the Democratic coalition obviously responds to what the Republican coalition is doing as well. And you see some of those tensions within the Democratic Party. So you have primaries among Democrats now where you know longtime incumbents that perhaps are a little bit more moderate or even if they're liberal but not seen as new and fresh and progressive enough––.
NICIE: And your mention of coalitions brings up a question we had on the show recently, Elliott Morris who's joined the Economist magazine recently and he described the Democratic Party as a coalitional party and the Republican Party as a more ideological party. Does that ring true to you?
SWERS: So this is a a fairly strong theory about the two parties that Democrats tend to be group-oriented in trying to service groups and that Republicans tend to be more ideological values and showing that you're a true conservative and you believe in those principles that I mentioned of limited government, anti-communism, free trade, social conservatism kind of married together in the Republican Party. So I think that there is some truth to that in that also the Democratic Party likes government and thinks that government should and can and should do things, whereas part of the Republican Party's views and probably a little bit more lately than even since Reagan is not just that you're skeptical of government but you're against the idea of the government and anti-establishment. And so there is that tension within the Republican Party that you now see going on in Congress as it seems a little bit strange that Republicans have control of the House, the Senate, and the presidency, and they haven't really been able to pass a lot of their goals beyond the tax cut they weren't able to repeal Obamacare in the way that they wanted to, they're struggling with an immigration bill right now trying to compromise amongst Republicans not between Republicans and Democrats. So part of that comes from the fact that there is a certain segment of the Republican Party that really does feel that the federal government should be partially eliminated in terms of you know President Trump his OMB director proposed to merge the Department of Education and the Department of Labor. So there is a a strong sort of anti-government wing of the Republican Party right now not just a a limited government wing.
NICIE: So you have chronicled the history of the polarization of the GOP particularly from the standpoint of women and women's issues. And I was wondering if you could kind of share with us when you think that really started.
SWERS: So I think that the current movement of the GOP to a more social conservative viewpoint was really cemented by Ronald Reagan, but started you know with the feminist movement and so it was a backlash to the second wave of the feminist movement. And what you saw happening was that the feminist movement starts to align with the Democratic Party and Democrats change their party rules about who can be delegates and they want more diversity among the delegates so they put in rules that said you had to have a certain percentage of women and a certain percentage of minorities a certain percentage of young people and Republicans never adopted quotas they just adopted encouragement. And the Republican Party used to be the party of the ERA was in their platform, they supported abortion rights and then they went to kind of a big tent on abortion, and then once the social conservatives really come in with Ronald Reagan, it really moves the Republican Party much more to the right and they sort of get rid of this idea of the big tent. So Ronald Reagan defeats kind of the Nelson Rockefeller liberal Republican. Most people don't know who Nelson Rockefeller was anymore. They don't really know about liberal Republicans, liberal Republicans now are called Democrats. Right? And conservative Democrats are called Republicans.
SWERS: So the parties have sorted ideologically as you can tell kind of who's a Republican and who's a Democrat. And and with that we saw the ERA taken out of the Republican platform more commitment to it first, no taxpayer funding of abortion and then you know constitutional amendment outlawing abortion those kinds of things being adopted into the Republican platform and then on the Democratic side, a strong commitment to being pro-choice. So right now you know Emily's List helps a lot of Democratic women win but only pro-choice Democratic women. So you're not gonna see a pro-life Democratic woman with the backing of Emily's List, the only pro-life Democratic woman in Congress I still know of is Marcy Kaptur from Ohio. And once she retires you know you're not going to see another one anytime soon. So the parties have totally polarized on that particular issue. In fact just this week in The New York Times there was an op-ed by Republican Majority for Choice, announcing that they're leaving the Republican Party because there is no place for pro-choice women in the Republican Party anymore and they are concerned that that the Republican Party is actually becoming anti-women and anti-women's rights.
NICIE: Now we did an interview with Governor Christie Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, and somewhat poignantly at least to me, she says that towards the end, "They don't want me, and I don't want to be associated with some of their ideas," which kind of sums it up.
SWERS: But yet they don't necessarily want to become Democrats, so it's hard, you know you you get into a position where your party doesn't embrace you anymore but on a whole host of other issues you don't embrace the Democratic Party. And so where do you go? So a lot of those types of people are becoming independents but there's not a lot of place to go depending on the state you live in, if it's a closed primary you don't get to vote in it, you know, if it's an open primary you can choose the party you want to vote in. But it's it's a hard place to be as an independent who isn't aligned kind of with either party and we are seeing some of that and with you know Hillary Clinton a lot of people thought well these Republicans who don't like President Trump well they'll vote for Hillary Clinton but they oppose Hillary Clinton on practically every other issue. So you know it would be a hard pill for them to swallow to vote for Hillary Clinton.
NICIE: You mentioned Nelson Rockefeller. Reading through some of your research, I thought it would be worth for our listeners, having you tell them a little bit about some of those former members of Congress who are moderate GOP women and one that came up was Marge Roukema. Tell us a little bit about Marge Roukema and how she picked her battles and how she represented her values in a a challenging environment.
SWERS: So Marge Roukema was from New Jersey, and so a Republican from New Jersey there are still a few although it's challenging in many of them are retiring right now, but she was very involved with the Family and Medical Leave Act. So our only actual legislation still to this day that has passed nationally in Congress on this issue was the Family and Medical Leave Act. And she helped negotiate that from the Republican side, now at this time Democrats are the majority in Congress, but you had a Republican President George H.W. Bush, and Republicans were generally concerned that this would be putting a mandate on business, and that it would be difficult for business particularly smaller businesses to maintain their employees and their their business if you put these kinds of federal mandates on them and and increase that. So she was very involved in these negotiations, particularly in what was gonna be the number of employees that you would be required to follow this which ended up being 50. They decided to make it unpaid. After all of this negotiation George H.W. still vetoes the bill because the Chamber of Commerce and others were opposed to it. And then it becomes the first bill that Bill Clinton signs into law. So Bill Clinton actually didn't negotiate the bill right?
SWERS: It was already kind of there and percolating in Congress. And you know he gets to sign this as his first piece of legislation very similar to how Barack Obama's first piece of legislation was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. A similar circumstance in response to a Supreme Court decision and George W. Bush not supporting it. So she gets onto this issue because she had her own experience with it she had a very ill child. And so she kind of felt from her own personal experience that this was something that was important that was worth her sort of sticking out her neck for. And so she stuck with the Republican Party on other issues and championed other issues but this was one where she went off a little bit and worked with Democrats in a more bipartisan way to try to get something done. As she goes on later in her career, by the time that she retires she is already too moderate for the party and she's passed over for a committee chairmanship that seniority-wise she was in line for.
NICIE: So that was a change as well on the the Republican caucus that they they moved from seniority-based chairmanship to you know giving the speaker and his close leadership allies a lot of discretion that usually had to do with ideological purity and probably fundraising is that right?
SWERS: Yes so seniority is still a factor but Republicans put term limits on their chairs. So this would force there to be fresh new blood. So on the one hand, maybe seniority is not that great if somebody can stay somewhere forever and they don't have as fresh ideas and they're not working as hard, people would often point to Strom Thurmond as that type of example, maybe he overstayed his welcome since he was already almost 100 when he retires. But seniority also helps groups even new groups who come in because you're guaranteed that spot as long as you kind of serve your time. So Republicans decided they want more control for the leadership over the caucus. And so by term limiting the chairs, originally they term limit the speaker but they get rid of that pretty quickly. Now the speaker you know is term limited just by sort of things that are going on within the the caucus and they don't seem to last, but there is no actual term limit on the speaker. But the the chairs are term limited in six years and so you see, for example I know you're going to Texas, Jeb Hensarling, Lamar Smith, others they have retired because they don't want to serve as backbenchers after they've been been chairs. And so that's why there's more turnover there. Well with these term limits, it does allow leadership influence to come in and the factors tend to be are you loyal to the caucus, so usually that's a certain measure of ideological loyalty, and how much are you fundraising for the caucus? Do you bring in a lot of fund raising, do you distribute to other members, can we count on you when we need your vote, so it is supposed to try to increase measures of party loyalty as a factor. And so then you do see people who might not be in line seniority-wise being given these chairmanships because they have other factors going for them that relate to party loyalty and fundraising prowess.
NICIE: So Marge Roukema gets passed over and does she then eventually decide to retire partly as a result of that?
SWERS: So it's not clear, but yes she does eventually decide to to leave Congress, and you know she was somewhat alienated from the caucus by the time that she left.
NICIE: OK one more, I want to talk about Connie Morella. Tell us about Connie Morella and and the issues she worked on.
SWERS: So Connie Morella was from fairly close by here in Maryland, and she ultimately loses to a Democrat who is now the senator from Maryland Chris Van Hollen. And that is because Maryland became more and more Democratic and the people that are sort of right on the border of Washington D.C. in Montgomery County are particularly Democratic. So she was actually very popular even when she lost because they just decided that you know in Maryland the Democrats there just felt they couldn't afford another vote for the Republicans in Congress. But Morella she never switched parties and she said that this was because you needed to have a voice within the Republican party and somebody you know standing there championing these issues. The biggest one she's associated with women's issues-wise was the Violence Against Women Act. So she was a major champion of the original legislation Joe Biden of course is very much associated with it, Chuck Schumer and Pat Schroeder, but on the Republican side Connie Morella was the champion. She was the main Republican sponsor on the bill both when it originally passes and when it's reauthorized again in the early 2000s. So she felt this was a particularly important issue and she spent a lot of political capital kind of persuading other Republicans to get on board. This was actually a becomes a fairly bipartisan issue for many many years and only in 2012 does it really become more partisan as Democrats sort of try to use it in their war on women rhetoric against Republicans, and that there were few elements in the bill that Republicans just couldn't stomach originally related to Native Americans and tribal land rights and putting in protections for homosexuals into the bill. And so Republicans you know there was a sticking point on those issues and then ultimately they hold out and then end up passing pretty much the Democrats bill after they lost in 2012 the presidency to Obama again.
NICIE: We talked a little bit about committee assignments and chairmanships on the House side. Let's move to the Senate and I'd love for you to compare and contrast the evolution of the role of Republican women in the House versus that in the Senate, and maybe talk a little bit about the committee assignments that they get or want in the Senate.
SWERS: So the Senate committee wise it's much easier as a senator because you're one of 100 so everybody is guaranteed what they call a "Super A Committee," which is the really most sought after committees which tend to be finance appropriations, Armed Services Committee, and these days a little bit less but the Foreign Relations Committee is a Super A. Today it tends to be filled with people who are freshmen who will get off at the earliest convenience when another Super A opens up, or people who want to be president. So Barack Obama was on foreign relations, Marco Rubio, John Kerry, you can kind of see the pattern. Joe Biden was the chair for a good long time. So a female senator is luckier because she can get a Super A which is going to give her some power right away, they have multiple committee assignments so I can service my constituency needs, I can have my finger in a whole lot of pots. So that's very nice for them. There are more Democratic women of course in the Senate than in the house. So, while Republicans had control of the House, Democrats had control of the Senate recently for a little while longer. And so you saw more women holding committee chairs in the Senate than you do in the House. In terms of sort of ideology, Republican women kind of converged with Republican men in the early 2000s, and so they are just as conservative. And in recent years they've actually become more active from a conservative point-of-view on things that people consider women's issues.
SWERS: So you do see Republican women for example they had a commission that was appointed by the Speaker of the time John Boehner to investigate Planned Parenthood when Planned Parenthood was accused of selling fetal tissue. And that was led by Republican woman Marsha Blackburn who is now running for the Senate in Tennessee. And the Republicans appointed half of the members to be women. And so you do see more Republican women in the House now, offering proposals to defund Planned Parenthood and these types of things. In the Senate, you don't really see that. And that's because there is kind of two kinds of women in the Senate, there's more moderate women who don't agree with those positions and that tends to be someone like a Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski. So they tend to be the holdouts when budgets are there that want to defund Planned Parenthood, they say well they're not going to vote for them for that reason. Then you have other women who are more conservative, so Joni Ernst from Iowa, Deb Fischer from Nebraska, these women are very conservative but they don't always want to champion those issues. They have a wide number of issues that they could be involved in because you're a statewide senator and they don't always want to be the face of this type of issue. So they'll take it on sometimes but they don't get as involved and even ideologically sort of temperamentally, Ernst and Fischer, even though they were supported by the Tea Party, Fischer was endorsed by Sarah Palin, they don't seem to be as aggressively conservative as you would think of with a Ted Cruz or Mike Lee. So there's still no female Ted Cruz in the Senate right now.
NICIE: Interesting. Now we've talked a little bit about the representation gap between Republican women and Democratic women in the House and Senate. But do you want to just put some numbers on that and and share how dramatic it is.
SWERS: So right now you know women there is about 20 percent. So they're they're are about 20 percent of of the House and and the Senate. And as I mentioned, the Democratic caucus has a lot more women so approximately 30 percent of the Democratic caucus is women. About 10 percent of the Republican caucus is women. And when you get to the Senate side when you only 100 people we're talking about five Republican women. So there's Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Shelley Moore Capito, Joni Ernst, and Deb Fischer, and that's pretty much your contingent of Republican women right now and that's still a high point. I don't think we've ever had more than six Republican women at a time.
NICIE: And for our listeners maybe just a brief comparative context for that internationally. I believe the Japanese parliament as a whole is about 10 percent women and that's among the lowest. Would that be about right? This is really rock-bottom for developed democracies.
SWERS: Yes we're on the lower end of developed democracies so you do see countries particularly that use either gender quotas or countries that have proportional representation where you get chosen by the party or if your party reaches a certain threshold you get seats, they tend to have more, the countries that usually have the most tend to be the Nordic countries so they have the the largest percentages where you're going to get into the 30 and 40 percent women.
NICIE: So when it comes to the representation gap there are a range of explanations that political scientists have have proffered for this and researched and maybe you could walk through those but you've done a particular amount of work on the role of fundraising. Tell us about that.
SWERS: So there are a number of sort of areas that people go to explain so why don't we have more women in Congress. A big area is political ambition theory, that we do have lots of research that shows that women are less likely to want to run in the first place, they are more risk-averse, they're going to think about it more or they're going to be more worried about whether they have the networks and the plan in place and all of these kinds of things. There's questions about connections, do I have connections within the party? Am I likely to be asked? So women are more likely to to need to be asked and less likely to get asked. So when you see people trying to change that, a lot of that is groups that come up to try to recruit and train women. So Emily's List is known for giving a lot of money but they also run trainings there are a lot of other organizations that run trainings, that do polling for you, you know offer you sort of this support system. Republican women definitely don't have that level of support system because the Republican culture as a whole is one that's based as you mentioned before more on ideology, they believe that you know you should have people sort of rising to the top based on merit, so they're not particularly responsive to an argument that says well we need to recruit women necessarily and we need more women. On the fundraising end, to run a race one of the first things I'm gonna need is money and lots of it. So your average winner of a 2016 House race we're talking about needing to raise a million dollars. So that's a lot of change, particularly if you're somebody who's not able to sell finance. You're going to need to raise a lot of money. So when we look at fundraising, women raised just as much as men do in similar positions. And when we say that we mean if I am a challenger I raised very little money, and a lot of women are going to be challengers because most of Congress is men. So that is obviously going make it difficult for women. Open seat races which means an incumbent's retired or lost, then you see more money coming in. And if I'm an incumbent female incumbents raise just as much as male incumbents.
SWERS: But most women particularly Republican women since we know that they're less than 10 percent, are going to be challengers and that's the hardest position to be in. We do have some evidence that Republican women, particularly, might have a harder time raising money in the primary stage. Right so where I'm running against a whole bunch of other candidates I need to prove my credentials and that I am a true conservative or whatever is required in the district that I'm running in. And so we do have some evidence that Republican women might have some more trouble fundraising than similar Republican men who are running in these primaries. Democratic women do get a lot of support from these groups that are designed to just elect Democratic women. And when we study the individual donors, when we look at male and female donors, now men donate much more than individual women donate. So there's a huge gap there in in donations. But the women who do donate, among the Democratic women donors, they seem to be more interested in electing a female candidate even once you account for things like is this a competitive race and the types of things that would normally predict donations, so Democratic female donors are already inclined to donate to women. Republican female donors don't see gender, so male and female Republicans are donating based on ideology. They want more conservative candidates. And so you can't get Republican women to donate to women just because they're women.
NICIE: I just think that's fascinating. And in some ways you can say well they're, you know, maybe the Republican women are being more ideological-consistent and they're not discriminating against men who share their values, so it's a fascinating thing, but it's also true, I would say we have seen it on the ground. We spend more time with Democratic candidates and their supporters, but I can think of a couple of different races maybe New Jersey's 11th and maybe California 25, where the women's networks in that region not necessarily in the district but in the region have been extraordinarily generous to female challengers that capture their imagination. I guess one, would be one way to put it.
SWERS: Yeah that's absolutely true. So if I get Emily's List support or some other women's groups support and they come in and they give me it's called Early Money Is Like Yeast for a reason. If they give me early money so that I can establish my presence, get my name recognition out there, because if I'm in a Democratic primary we all kind of support very similar positions. So what's going to distinguish me? And so you need money backing you to sort of be able to tell your story.
NICIE: And interestingly, I don't think this happens too often on the Republican side although they do have a group called the Susan B. Anthony List and maybe you could tell us a little bit about that. But, we do see races where you have more than one woman running in the primary and Emily's List is in a bit of a tight spot as to what they should do in terms of their money and their endorsement and their endorsement is highly sought-after.
SWERS: That's right. So the Emily's List endorsement is highly sought after and they will you know make a choice and they'll back the person that they're backing and push them all the way and they have these various factors that they look at to see whether they think that you're capable of running a campaign and how much resources they would need to put into the race, these kinds of questions. Susan B. Anthony's List is an interesting one because they support pro-life female candidates but they also heavily support pro-life men running against Democratic pro-choice women. So one of their bigger races this cycle was actually in Illinois. Dan Lipinski is one of the very few pro-life Democrats and he's usually the main cosponsor on on Republican bills to restrict abortion. And so they very much wanted him to win re-election and he was running against a pro-choice woman that was backed by Emily's List and they gave him a lot of money and you'll generally see Republican men usually who are running against Democratic women getting a lot of money from them as well.
SWERS: But they don't raise nearly the amount of money that Emily's List does and they're probably the most famous. But Republicans, they have a lot of other groups that have popped up. You know, Maggie's List is one, and Winning For Women. But the issue that they have with these groups is is again Republicans they would say that they're not cause people so they can't say, you know we have this cause, we want to elect pro-life women, right? They are generally about limited government, national security, so if I don't have a particular cause to convince you, and my donor is not particularly responsive to ideas that they they would say they don't play identity politics, then how do I get them to want to donate to elect more women? So you have several actually Republican groups but most Republican donors don't know about them and they have a harder time kind of raising money and so they end up pushing for smaller numbers of candidates and the Republican Party itself has not done a lot to recruit women. They've had various projects so there's a project grow within the Republican Party. Elise Stefanik is their head of recruitment right now for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. So they make these smaller efforts but they don't also have a lot of women on their side to then go out and recruit other women either.
NICIE: So where is this headed? What do you see as the most likely scenarios for the GOP and women in the GOP?
SWERS: So I think at least for now particularly because you have a Republican president who's very polarizing, the midterms are going to be more another year for Democratic female expansion and not so much Republican female expansion. It is possible you'll see more Republican women in the Senate if Marsha Blackburn is able to win in Tennessee, if Martha McSally is able to win in Arizona, you know these are sort of tight races that are being followed. So it's possible they could actually expand their numbers in the Senate if things kind of broke their way, and the Senate map is particularly unfriendly to Democrats this year with four seats up for re-election in the areas that voted very heavily Republican in the presidential race. So they have a a chance of increasing their numbers there. But more Republican women are actually leaving the house either because they're choosing to retire or they're running for something else so Kristi Noem is running for governor in South Dakota, Diane Black is also running for governor in Tennessee. So you could actually see fewer Republican women next time in the House, if Democrats manage to take over the House, well then you know you'll see more women having chairmanships, but if Republicans hold onto the House, that's even fewer women to draw from in leadership positions.
NICIE: And as a political scientist, what are the questions you're most interested in in asking next?
SWERS: So right now I'm actually doing a lot of work on Republican women kind of trying to understand why so few? You know, why we don't see greater expansion of Republican women being elected and then looking at those issue priorities so in earlier work that I did when you had more Republican women, you did see those women collaborating more with Democrats and doing more on issues that would be directly related to women whether that be Family Medical Leave, Violence Against Women, Pay Equity, any number of issues. Now Republican women are much more conservative. So as we go forward if only conservative Republican women can be elected in terms of the current strength of the party and where its strongholds are in terms of districts, will you see any difference? Is there going to be any difference in the policy priorities of those women? Will you see them championing more of these policies from a conservative direction? Will you see them collaborating across the aisle with Democrats? Will you see them rejecting these issues entirely? I mean one thing that Republican women a lot of them do believe is that there are no women's issues, that all issues are women's issues and they kind of chafe against that kind of a definition and they would say to you that national security is a women's issue and transportation is a women's issue. So then what does that mean? You know, what is that different perspective that they're bringing? Because many Republican women that I've talked to, they do believe that they bring a different perspective to governing. So what does that mean is kind of what I'm trying to tease out at the moment.
NICIE: As you mentioned with some of these key races the new breed of Republican women is going to be very much in the spotlight. And you mentioned two that are of interest. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black, both from Tennessee, and they're both going to be in very interesting races against white men who are more moderate, kind of friendly pro-business to your more typical Chamber of Commerce type of Democrat. That's going to be really interesting to see how centrist voters respond to those two women when they run statewide this this fall.
SWERS: I think that's definitely true. I mean I'm particularly watching that Senate race. And what's interesting about it is Bob Corker who's retiring has not been fully supportive of Marsha Blackburn he's kind of tepidly endorsed her and he said well Phil Bredesen is a friend. So the Democratic candidate is a friend. Now the role of a governor is different than the role of a member of Congress. So Congress is very nationalized and very polarized on a lot of hot button issues. When I'm the governor I have to make the state run. So people like Bredesen as a governor because he's making this state run and the question is can you translate that type of a record over to a congressional race where you're going to be asked a lot more about hot button issues. Do you support President Trump on X Y and Z? That you wouldn't be asked necessarily in a governor's race. So it's kind of a question of whether the the trends in voting in Tennessee will win out which have been Republican trends and in that case she should win, or sort of this environment and the polarization that it is and the fact that he had been a popular governor so he does have statewide name recognition. Will that sort of push him forward?
NICIE: OK last question. We spent a lot of time on Twitter and in our show advocating for the importance of Congress. So we feel pretty strongly about it. But if you could share with our listeners your thoughts on why Congress is important and worthy of our time and energy as citizens what would you say?
SWERS: So Congress is the only way you get a law that becomes permanent. So I think a lot of people have been surprised recently at how easily some of President Obama's initiatives have been turned back and that's because he did a lot of it and was somewhat forced to because of the nature of Congress through executive action. So his participation in Paris Climate right, and anything that he did on immigration relating to these DREAMers, this was done through executive action. If it's done through executive action, it's not law. And so then the next president can come in and reverse that executive action and that's exactly what President Trump has done. And in fact a lot of what President Trump has done is through executive action. So he's sort of susceptible to the same thing. If he wants a permanent fix for immigration that follows his four pillars he is going to need Congress to pass a law. He has said that well you know that would require compromising with Democrats in the Senate because of Senate cloture rules regarding filibusters so he doesn't want to do that now and he wants them to elect more Republicans in the midterms so they get a cloture-proof majority. That's how Obamacare passed. Right? So Obamacare passed because you had a cloture-proof majority in the in the Senate for a few minutes there, and you had a majority in the House and you had a Democratic president.
SWERS: And that's made it harder for Republicans to then undermine Obamacare which is not to say that they haven't undermined it in many ways but they haven't been able to repeal it. And it's still the law of the land. And you now see some states even Republican-controlled states deciding they want to vote for a Medicaid expansion. So that's had long-lasting effects because it was passed as a law through Congress. And the DREAMers are where they are right now because no law was ever passed through Congress. It was only done through executive action. So if you want permanent, consistent change and be able to count on policy for the long-term, you need to do that work of having a law passed through Congress and compromising with the presidency. What we see right now is a lot of flux because you see these responsibilities being shifted to the presidency and to the courts, right, and the courts making a lot of decisions, and when you have 5-4 decisions then you know people get upset about that close march.
NICIE: And we start to erode our confidence in the government as a whole when we lack the vigor of that first branch is that fair to say?
SWERS: It is although Congress is always the most unpopular of all the branches. So we seem to hate what we have the most control over. So congressional approval is always down. You know in around 13 percent which is about friends and family and that sort of thing. But the presidency is more popular the course the thing that we love the most is the military right now and we have absolutely no control over the military.
NICIE: Food for thought. Michele Swers thank you so much for your time, really appreciate it.
SWERS: Thank you very much for having me.
NICIE: That was Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University. That's it for this week. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram @themidpod, and visit us at themidpod.com. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.