Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s inability to attract Republican women might be caused by its heavy workload, a remark the panel’s chairman tried to retract a few minutes later.

“It’s a lot of work — maybe they don’t want to do it,” Grassley told the Wall Street Journal, NBC News and other outlets, as he headed toward the Senate floor for a speech by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The committee, which has turned into a partisan hotbed in the past five years, has never had a Republican woman serve on it, even as the Senate’s ranks have doubled from three to six female GOP senators in recent years.

That omission drew more scrutiny during the second round of hearings for Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, during which committee Republicans hired a female prosecutor from Arizona to question Christine Blasey Ford about her allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago.

Four of the 10 Democrats on Judiciary are women, including two former prosecutors, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).

Grassley was pulled off the Senate floor by an aide so that he could expand on his remarks, at which point he explained that the committee’s intense partisanship and heavy workload have made it a less glamorous post for any senator.

“We have a hard time getting men on the committee. Do you know that we have got four people that are on the committee because the leader asked them to be there? Because they couldn’t fill the seats up,” Grassley said in that follow-up interview, suggesting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has had to practically beg several Republicans to sit on the contentious panel.

“It’s just a lot of work whether you’re a man or a woman,” Grassley added.

The 85-year-old chairman then predicted that at the start of next year, Republicans would get a woman on their side of the Judiciary Committee dais.

Asked if he was previously questioning female senators’ work commitment, Grassley said male senators actually had worse work habits. “On average, any woman in the United States Senate, whether they’re on Judiciary or any other committee, probably works harder than the average man,” he said.

Grassley then returned to the Senate floor, where a few minutes later Collins — with three Republican women sitting behind her — delivered a 44-minute speech outlining her support for Kavanaugh, the critical moment that has likely ensured his confirmation in a final vote Saturday.