Ladies’ room backups aside, some are wondering whether the record-breaking number of women will mean less gridlock, not more, in the chamber.
Women are more collaborative and collegial leaders, studies have found. And for those bemoaning the increasing nastification of the Senate, it may mean the chances for an antidote have just increased.
“We women set the tone for civility and respect on Capitol Hill,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the chamber’s longest-serving woman. “We want to carry that tone of civility with us in an otherwise prickly institution.”
It’s not that the Senate’s women are less formidable than their male counterparts. Mikulski is known for her plain-speaking manner, and female leaders on the Hill, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Patty Murray (Wash.) — haven’t been afraid to throw an elbow.
But during a group interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer set to air Jan. 3, the 19 female senators and senators-elect who were present agreed with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) when she said, “I think if we [women] were in charge of the Senate and of the administration, we would have a budget deal by now.”
Across the Capitol in the House, a record 78 women will serve as representatives in the next Congress. But the impact in the smaller and more personality-driven Senate may be more evident: All six female senators facing reelection won, and five women are members of the freshman class.
“I think this is the most consequential aspect of the election,” said former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). “Women bring the Senate an energy and a perspective and a potential for bipartisanship.”
For years, women in both parties have met regularly for dinners. Every few months, they meet in the Capitol’s Strom Thurmond Room, the irony of which isn’t lost on them. Their gathering spot is named for a man whose parting words to the Senate were, “I love all of you, and especially your wives.”
Over glasses of wine and sometimes a pecan pie baked by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), they discuss their personal worlds — kids, husbands, books, vacation plans.
“We talked about each other’s lives and stories,” said former senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).
They buy presents to celebrate milestones. When Collins got engaged, they threw a shower. The dynamic mimics the storied conviviality of the past, when Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson shared bourbon and small talk with friends and political enemies alike.
And, like then, the friendships can result in bipartisan legislation.