Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., and Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., are Co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues
The congresswomen actively promote bipartisanship in the national legislature, and join host Sheila Hyland to discuss efforts to unite female policymakers of all parties to advance policies favorable toward women and families.
Hyland: In 1977, 15 Congresswomen created a caucus to discuss issues facing American women. More than 40 years later, the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women´s Issues continues to advocate on behalf of American women. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me to discuss efforts to uplift the lives of American women and families are the caucus´ co-chairs, Representative Brenda Lawrence, Democrat from Michigan, and Republican Representative Debbie Lesko from Arizona. Congresswomen, thank you so much for being with us.
Rep. Lawrence: Thank you for having us.
Rep. Lesko: Thank you.
Hyland: I want to ask you first, Congresswoman Lawrence, what is the mission of the caucus? And it seems that you focus more on bringing women together rather than what tears you apart.
Rep. Lawrence: I think there´s a tremendous opportunity, with the record number 106 women in Congress, for us to really have a voice, to increase the concerns and legislation that directly impact women. Our voices haven´t been heard because of lack of presence, and this is a bipartisan effort. There are things that unite us as women throughout this country, and we have a great opportunity. I´m excited about working with my colleague, and we have a very strong agenda for this 116th Congress.
Hyland: And I´ll turn it over to Congresswoman Lesko. What is on the agenda? What do you hope to achieve this year through the caucus?
Rep. Lesko: I´m really happy to work with Brenda ´cause we get along really well, and so I am happy that we´re going to agree on different things that both Republicans and Democrats can support. One of them is infant and women mortality rates, giving birth -- this is very important to Brenda, and it´s important to me, as well, and other women. I´m a survivor of domestic violence, so one of the issues that´s very important to me -- and all women, quite frankly -- is reducing the amount of domestic violence that happens in our society, and trying to find ways that we can work bipartisan with the Violence Against Women Act together. I´m hoping that we can work together so that all the women can support it, and that would be a very good thing.
Hyland: And what kind of legislation do you anticipate that would help to solve the issue of domestic and sexual violence and assault?
Rep. Lesko: Well, we have -- the biggest bill that we have is the Violence Against Women Act, and it has to be reauthorized. And so I want to work with the Congresswoman and the other Congresswoman who I think is going to be sponsoring it on the Democrat side, to see, to make sure that we get in things that Republicans like and that Democrats like, and we try to work together. I hope that´s possible. I think there´s a lot of issues that Republicans and Democrats actually agree on. I know there´s many issues we disagree on, but we can find common ground. One of the things that I brought up the other day with Representative Lawrence was that, regarding gun violence, I think there are some areas that we can work together, maybe on funding or doing more mental illness...
Rep. Lawrence: Yes.
Rep. Lesko: ...and those type of things. So there are areas that we can work on together, even on controversial issues.
Hyland: It´s interesting. I´m wondering what other groups could learn from this bipartisan effort of this caucus. It´s so successful because of the way women work together.
Rep. Lawrence: One of the issues I really want to drive home is maternal mortality. In the United States of America, the number of women dying in childbirth, it´s increasing. So, childbirth is nothing new, but there are third-world countries who are reducing the levels of maternal mortality, and we´re increasing. It´s unacceptable. When Debbie and I talked about that, we said, you know, "If we´re not lifting up our voices as women and making this a priority, and really dive down into how we fund healthcare for women, it´s a missed opportunity." So our voices are louder. The other thing that we feel strongly about -- the fact that we can sit as women, 50% of our population in the United States, we´re only 25% in the House. However, we, the two of us -- she´s strong, I´m strong -- and the group of women who are in Congress are phenomenal, and we see an opportunity for us to lead, you know? There´s all this divisiveness, and people are fighting, but when you get women in the room and start talking about domestic violence, start talking about maternal mortality, start talking about women in poverty -- do you realize that the largest group that is living in poverty in America are women with children? We talked about how domestic violence -- one of the things that the abusers use is taking away your access to funds, so if you leave, you´re instantly poor. And so, we feel we can make a difference, and we´re excited about it.
Hyland: And making that difference, too, extends not just to women in the U.S., but around the globe.
Rep. Lawrence: Mm-hmm.
Hyland: Right, Representative Lesko?
Rep. Lesko: Yes. And in fact, in the State of the Union, President Trump talked about helping women in businesses become entrepreneurs all around the globe. So our staff got some briefing on that. I´m sure we´re going to learn more and see how we can be involved. I know that Brenda is interested in actually going and meeting with some leaders in other countries. I´m interested in bringing in women CEOs from successful companies. I think five of the big defense industries have women CEOs, so this is something else that´s really -- we can share -- is empowering women, ´cause that´s how they can get out of poverty, and that´s how they can be successful. And, you know, women don´t just think about certain issues -- we care about all issues. And so that´s why we put out a survey just recently to the women in Congress and said, "What´s important to you? ´Cause that´s what we´re going to try to talk about."
Hyland: And do you have a sense of optimism for the future, for the country, and for women, and for women being better represented in government as the years go by?
Rep. Lawrence: So, you know we´re celebrating the 100th year where women received the right to vote in this country. The optimism and to reflect back on history on the accomplishments and the leadership opportunity for women in this country is phenomenal. However, we must stay diligent, and we must continue to expose those issues like sexual harassment in the workforce. That was painful. The MeToo movement was not comfortable for anyone, but that was a reality for women in America. And we pull the curtain back on that, and we´re dealing with that, and we´re moving forward. Pay equality is something we can´t turn our back on, because when a woman is paid less than a man, it continues throughout her retirement. When she´s on Social Security and getting her pension, she´s still getting less than a man. So these are things -- I´m optimistic about it, and part of our leadership responsibility is to create that sense of, "We can do this, we can lead, and we deserve to have a seat at the table." And like my shero Shirley Chisholm said, "If you don´t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair," and we´re about doing it.
Hyland: I love it. Great conversation. Congresswomen Brenda Lawrence and Debbie Lesko, thank you so much for being our guests today.
Rep. Lawrence: Thank you. Thank you.
Rep.Lesko: Thank you.
Hyland: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland.