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GOP Women Defend Palin, Object to Questions About Her Family

September 2, 2008 at 6:18 PM EST
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The choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate has sparked a flurry of debate over balancing career and family and whether even raising such questions is gender bias. GOP Congress Heather Wilson and Mary Fallin give their insights on parenting and politics.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Sarah Palin is the first woman ever picked as a Republican vice presidential nominee. For more on the balancing act she faces, we turn to two Republican members of Congress, Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma.

I want to read to you both something that Fred Thompson — they released in advance some of the comments he will be making in his convention speech tonight about John McCain. He says about John McCain, “It’s pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves: Who is this man? And can we trust this man with the presidency?”

Both of those questions are being asked about the vice presidential nominee, Heather Wilson. Do you think there’s an answer to them?

REP. HEATHER WILSON (R), New Mexico: Sure. She’s the governor of the state of Alaska. She’s been a former mayor of a town in Alaska. She’s helped run the family fishing business. She’s raised five kids.

You know, the national Washington-centric folks may not know Gov. Palin. I’m glad that Sen. McCain chose someone from outside of Washington who’s tried to reform the state capital in one of the most important energy-producing states in the nation.

So I’m glad that people will have a chance here this week that all of America will have, an opportunity to meet Sarah Palin, because Alaska already knows they’ve got a pretty good thing going.

GWEN IFILL: Have you met Sarah Palin before?

REP. HEATHER WILSON: I have — I met her once briefly. I serve the Southwest. We don’t cross that many paths with Alaska. But I’ve been very impressed by her record and by her broad support in the state of Alaska. She’s got — she has one of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the country.

Balancing work and family

Rep. Mary Fallin
R - Oklahoma
And, you know, all of us as parents have a job of balancing between work and family, getting our priorities right, which Sarah puts faith and her family as her top priorities. Those are the same priorities that we have.

GWEN IFILL: Mary Fallin, have you met Sarah Palin?

REP. MARY FALLIN (R), Oklahoma: I have. I actually got to have dinner with her in Alaska about a month-and-a-half ago when some of the Republicans went to Alaska to talk about energy policy and how we can reduce our dependence on foreign energy and create America energy. And we wanted to go see ANWR; we wanted to talk about drilling.

GWEN IFILL: The wildlife preserve.

REP. MARY FALLIN: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and had the chance to have dinner and to visit about family, to visit about governing, to visit about her agenda for Alaska. And that was long before we knew that she would be the vice presidential candidate.

But, you know, Heather and I are both working moms. Heather has children actually a little bit younger than mine. My children, in fact, when I first ran for office in 1990 for the state legislature, unbeknownst to me, I was expecting my second child, my husband and I were. And I had a baby between the primary and the general. Today, that son, that baby is 18 years old. My daughter is 21.

And, you know, all of us as parents have a job of balancing between work and family, getting our priorities right, which Sarah puts faith and her family as her top priorities. Those are the same priorities that we have.

She served in the executive branch. I've been in the legislative branch. I've been in the executive branch as lieutenant governor of Oklahoma. And I can tell you that there is a difference between the executive branch and the legislative branch.

As an executive, she is managing a budget for a state, she is running different department heads, and different departments, I should say, and working with the department heads in her state.

Ending the 'double standard'

Rep. Heather Wilson
R - New Mexico
That bothers me. No one ever asked John Kennedy whether he could be president and be a dad. Nobody asks Senator Obama whether he could be president and be a dad.

GWEN IFILL: And there's also a big difference between running a state or running as long as she has run a state and running for one of the biggest jobs in the country. What advice do you give her on how to balance this? She's got five kids. She's got one...

REP. HEATHER WILSON: You know something? Let me say something about that. That bothers me. No one ever asked John Kennedy whether he could be president and be a dad. Nobody asks Senator Obama whether he could be president and be a dad.

But because Governor Palin is a woman, they're asking whether she can be vice president and a mom.

GWEN IFILL: But she describes herself...

REP. HEATHER WILSON: It's time to end the double standard.

GWEN IFILL: I understand what you're saying. She described herself as a hockey mom. That was her self-description.

REP. HEATHER WILSON: And one of the greatest things about Senator Obama is that he talks about the importance of being a father and a parent, but nobody asks whether he can do both at the same time. We need to end the double standard.

And the double standard, I think, is not being pushed by Republicans here at the convention. It's being asked by people in the media who should know better.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think it's a double standard?

REP. MARY FALLIN: Oh, yes, I do. In fact, I think it's a little bit of a slam towards men, saying that men can't be a good partner to a woman who works.

You know, her husband is going to be her partner right alongside her. And he has been when she's been in other offices. And that's what a family is about, is working together.

Advice for Sarah Palin

Rep. Mary Fallin
R - Oklahoma
It is to have strong leadership and someone who is experienced, and that's one of the reasons why I think John McCain is the man to be president of our nation and to lead our nation.

GWEN IFILL: Are you satisfied that she has been vetted adequately?

REP. MARY FALLIN: Well, I think she has been vetted. She's been vetted thoroughly. I've seen -- she had these huge questionnaires that she had to fill out.

But I remind you, she's only been our nominee for four days. She is going through intensive public vetting right now, whereas all the other candidates who ran for president, who ran for vice president, or became vice presidential considerations, they've been running for years.

And so we've heard for years about all their background. Now, all of a sudden, we have this new lady who's our nominee and she's being vetted now for the last four days.

In fact, I think everybody has thrown the kitchen sink at her. Maybe she just needs to throw the kitchen sink back at them.

GWEN IFILL: What would that entail exactly? I'm a little scared to know. But explain to me what it is that she needs to do. Obviously, she has come under intense scrutiny for whatever reason, whatever the standards are. What advice do you give her on how to handle the next couple of weeks especially?

REP. HEATHER WILSON: To be yourself. I think that's one of the things that people like Gov. Palin is that she's the real deal. You know, she is -- she doesn't try to be something that she's not.

And I think that's something that's appealing about her, is she's not part of the Washington inside crowd. She's the governor of kind of the last frontier state we have in America. And I think if she's just herself, she'll be fine.

GWEN IFILL: If you had gotten the call, the call from John McCain four or five days ago, saying, "I want you on my ticket," and you were preparing a speech tonight to give to this convention tomorrow -- I'll start with you -- what would you say?

REP. MARY FALLIN: Oh, I would say I would be right there to support President, I should say, Sen. John McCain and his agenda for America. And I would talk about where we would hope we would lead America together as a team, and, of course, talk about his governor -- excuse me, Sen. McCain's attributes, his strong leadership skills, his courage, his determination, why we need a man like him at this time for our nation.

And, frankly, if you look at what's happened this week with the Hurricane Gustav and how important it is to have strong leadership and someone who is experienced, and that's one of the reasons why I think John McCain is the man to be president of our nation and to lead our nation.

Complementing John McCain

Rep. Heather Wilson
R - New Mexico
But what he's gotten is a governor from a state that's important to the country, who's a reformer, who can complement his strength, which is as a reformer. And I think that was the right kind of choice to make.

GWEN IFILL: And you do agree that the vice presidential nominee, when she speaks, should focus mostly on John McCain's attributes and less on trying to sell herself or promote herself?

REP. HEATHER WILSON: Well, in a way, she will be introducing herself and telling stories about herself, but those stories are also illustrative of issues that the nation faces.

Gov. Palin can talk pretty articulately about the energy challenges facing this country and why we need more American-made energy. Alaska is the top oil-producing state in the nation, and she understands that issue. And she also understands what it's like to pay $4 a gallon for gas to get back and forth to the games, also.

GWEN IFILL: She certainly understands domestic issues. What about foreign policy issues? Cindy McCain has said, because she is the governor of a state that is so close, across the Bering Strait from Russia, that she has sensitivity to those issues. Is it necessary that the vice president have more knowledge than that?

REP. MARY FALLIN: That will come with time. I think she is a very intelligent and very articulate woman. And she will certainly gain that knowledge as we go through this presidential campaign.

She does have knowledge now. She is right up against Canada, as you mentioned, Russia across the way. And so it will come.

But you've got to remember, she's running for vice president. You know, Sen. McCain, once he becomes president, will have all of his cabinet secretaries, his advisers, they will also be there to assist her. And she's gotten just as much experience as Sen. Obama coming in, other than he's been in the United States Senate for two years, two or three years now, three years. So, anyway, she's coming in. She'll learn it.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think about that?

REP. HEATHER WILSON: I think that what she brings to the ticket is not national security expertise. We've got the strongest presidential candidate on national security expertise than we've had in a long time.

John McCain not only served in the United States Navy, he's been involved in every national security decision this country has made for the last 20 years. He didn't need a vice president to buttress his expertise in national security.

But what he's gotten is a governor from a state that's important to the country, who's a reformer, who can complement his strength, which is as a reformer. And I think that was the right kind of choice to make. You don't want -- you don't want a president and a vice president who duplicate each other.

GWEN IFILL: The heartbeat away question doesn't trouble you?

REP. HEATHER WILSON: No, because they're running as a team. And I think they complement each other. And I think that's a good thing.

GWEN IFILL: Heather Wilson and Mary Fallin, Congresswomen from New Mexico and Oklahoma, thank you both very much for joining us.

REP. MARY FALLIN: Thank you.