Thursday, November 8, 2018

More women make it to Congress -- and face gridlock -- Nov. 8, 2018 column

The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, half a million women marched on Washington. The new president largely ignored them.
He bragged about the size of his own inauguration crowd but didn’t mention the hundreds of thousands of women in pink hats on the streets protesting him and his policies -- until the following day.
“Watched the protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt the cause badly,” he tweeted.
Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Trump.
Many of the protesters probably did vote – for Hillary Clinton. Then, they turned their disappointment and anger into action. Democratic women ran -- and won -- in record numbers for Congress.   
At least 118 women will serve in the House and Senate when the new Congress convenes in January, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Currently 110 women serve in Congress.
In Virginia on Tuesday, three Democratic women candidates flipped reliably red House districts to blue.
Elaine Luria, a retired Navy commander, beat Rep. Scott Taylor in the Hampton Roads suburbs.
Abigail Spanberger, self-described as a former CIA operative and a Girl Scout leader, narrowly defeated Tea Party favorite Rep. Dave Brat in the Richmond suburbs.
And Jennifer Wexton, a state senator since 2014, rolled over longtime Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
Precisely how many women will be in Congress depends on still-undecided races. One thing is clear, though: Trump can’t ignore women anymore.
Women voters helped drive the blue wave, such as it was, by generally choosing Democrats for Congress. Fifty-five percent of women voted for a Democratic congressional candidate, and only 41 percent for a Republican, the AP’s exit poll reported. Men’s votes were more evenly split.
In 2016, Trump won 53 percent of white women’s votes. In the midterms, 50 percent of white women voted for a Democrat for Congress and 46 percent for a Republican, according to exit polls.  
Republicans acknowledge the party is turning off white, college-educated, suburban women. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, who lost to Brat four years ago, blames “cultural signals” sent by the party.
It’s incumbent on GOP legislators to step up with an agenda both men and women can support, including help for child care and health care, Cantor told Bloomberg Radio Wednesday.
But with the House in Democratic hands for the first time since 2010, Trump will need to work with Democrats or watch his agenda grind to a halt. The GOP strengthened its control of the Senate Tuesday by two or three senators, but the House has the power of the purse.
The incoming freshman class of House Democrats is refreshingly diverse – with the first two Muslim women, first two Native American women, and the first black woman member from Massachusetts. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is the youngest member of Congress at 29.
It’s tempting to feel exuberant about the new attitudes and policies the freshmen women will bring, but the reality is sobering. Stalemate is more likely than progress in divided government.
Before anything else, the new members must decide whether to support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, an effective party builder and a lightning rod for critics, for Speaker.
Spanberger is among the few newly elected representatives who promises not to support Pelosi “under any circumstances.” Luria and Wexton have said they’ll wait and see.  
Trump, of all people, says Pelosi deserves to be Speaker and he’ll even help her get elected to the post. He claims he’s sincere; others think he’s setting her up.
Pelosi expects to regain the Speaker’s gavel. She says subpoena power may become a negotiating tool as Democratic committee chairmen dig into Trump’s businesses and his administration.  
Trump threatens a “warlike posture” if Democrats investigate him, vowing to retaliate with investigations of Democrats.
“They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” he said.
Such talk by both sides makes gridlock almost inevitable -- and nobody voted for that.
 © 2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


  1. Marsha, this in an insightful and important column. I am thankful that you bring such keen instincts to this situation. Thank you!