Two House lawmakers settled a weeks-long dispute Tuesday regarding the invitation of female witnesses at last month’s contentious hearing on religious objections to the Obama administration’s policy on contraception.
The Feb. 16 hearing, held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led Democrats to accuse Republicans of mounting a “war on women” by opposing the administration’s decision to force insurance companies to provide coverage for contraception and other forms of birth control if an employer declines to do so based on moral or religious objections.
During the hearing, 10 witnesses testified on two separate panels — five male religious leaders on the first panel and three men and two women on the second panel.
As the hearing began, Maloney looked out at the first panel from the dais and asked “Where are the women?”
That comment — and Issa’s decision to decline to send an invitation to Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke to testify — became flashpoints in a renewed debate over women’s rights.
In the weeks since the hearing, Maloney and Issa have argued in the press whether women and their concerns were properly presented at the hearing. Issa and his Republican colleagues note that the hearing was designed to air religious and not gender-based concerns with the administration’s decision on contraception and that two women — Laura Champion of Calvin College Health Services and Allison Dabbs of Oklahoma Christian University — testified at the hearing.
But things came to a head last week when Issa gave an interview to a California newspaper:
Asked about the dispute over female witnesses, Issa accused Democrats of creating “a false image” of a lack of women at the hearing.
“The Democrats asked for a man [to testify at the hearing], they got a man, and then they withdrew him,” Issa told the Rancho Santa Fe Review. “Carolyn Maloney then made the famous [statement], ‘Where are the women?’ That was an outright lie and she knew it when she said it. There were two women on the second panel, they had the list in front of them.”
On Tuesday, Maloney, concerned with Issa calling her a liar, invoked a point of personal privilege and spoke on the House floor about the dispute.
“I certainly understand that members on both sides of the aisle have different viewpoints on this issue, and I am not here to discuss the underlying policy differences we may have,” Maloney said. “Today, I ask from Mr. Issa the same commitment I ask of myself: to always strive to hear from all sides of a debate without resorting to name-calling or attacks on the personal integrity of others. Even when we disagree with what others might say, we have an obligation to listen to them and respect their viewpoint.”
Hours before Maloney spoke, aides said the two lawmakers met to discuss the incident. Issa followed up with a written apology.
“For years we have collaborated as colleagues on numerous projects intended to create better government for the American people,” Issa wrote in his letter to Maloney. “In this context, I agree with your point and regret that my choice of words in an interview with a community newspaper did not reflect the collegial relationship and open communication you and I have long enjoyed.”
“At times when we disagree there are better, more collegial ways to express such differences,” Issa added.
On the House floor, Maloney acknowledged receiving Issa’s letter, but added that “women were called far worse than ‘liars’” after the hearing — a subtle nod to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke.
“I do think the women of America are owed an apology — an apology for denying them a voice, and an apology for denying them a place at the table,” Maloney added. “It was wrong then. It is wrong each time it happens. And it is especially wrong when women’s health, women’s lives, and women’s rights are being discussed. And to cavalierly dismiss or deny that fact does greater damage to the fabric of democracy than words can ever redress.”
Issa spokesman Frederick Hill confirmed that a phone call took place Tuesday and sent a copy of the apology letter. He added: “If Democrat leadership, however, still feels [Maloney] needs to argue that her statement wasn’t inaccurate that’s their right under the rules. The facts, however, are pretty straightforward.”
So maybe the dispute isn’t settled after all?
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
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