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More Than Two Dozen Women to Take Stage on Day One of Democratic Convention

September 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and California attorney general Kamala Harris talk to Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill about the role of women in politics, how equal pay for men and women helps support the economy, and how everyone should have the right to make decisions for one's own body, including reproductive rights.
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GWEN IFILL: More than two dozen women will take the convention stage tonight to talk about the role of women in the party. Many more will be on the convention floor.

Joining us to talk about that, their role of women in the party, are Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Kamala Harris, attorney general of California.

Welcome to you both.

Senator Gillibrand, I’m really very curious about what you thought about what Ray just talked about EMILY’s List, whether women are really running for office, whether they are inspired to.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Yes.

And this year, specifically in this U.S. Senate, we have 11 women running for the Senate, the most ever. We have six incumbents and we have five challengers. But it’s not surprising, because we have Patty Murray, the chair of the DSCC, who looked for those candidates and found these strong women challengers.

And a couple of those seats are pickup seats for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you both about women voters, because we have heard the Republicans say last week that, yes, the Democrats argue they’re better for women, but in fact women have been most affected by this bad economy, by the slow recovery.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, don’t they have a point?  

KAMALA HARRIS, California Attorney General: Well, women’s issues are no different than anyone’s. But women do disproportionately have the responsibility for raising families and taking care of senior and aging parents.

But women care equally as much about what’s happening with the economy. Women care equally as much certainly about the Affordable Care Act and what is going to happen when we roll it out in 2014 in terms of eliminating preexisting condition issues.

So women are intelligent people… 

(LAUGHTER) 

KAMALA HARRIS: … who pay attention to issues, and they read.

And their circumstances may vary depending on where they live, but the are reality is that they’re paying attention to all these issues and they are going to make decisions based on what makes sense for the country.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: And the number one issue in this election is the economy.

And women are key to economic security in this country. Women aren’t being paid a dollar on the dollar. It’s not surprising that President Obama, the first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure that women no longer are going to earn 78 cents on the dollar.

It really makes a difference because these economic issues fundamentally affect every American family, and equal pay is fundamental to that.

GWEN IFILL: And yet so often when we talk about women’s issues in politics, we’re talking about reproductive issues, we’re talking about health issues.

I wonder, Attorney General Harris, whether the Todd Akin comment about legitimate rape and the debate about that in the Republican Party, whether that in some ways was a godsend to Democrats, even though it took your eye off of the economy as an issue.

KAMALA HARRIS: Well, I think it also highlighted — you know, I’m a career prosecutor. And so the idea that someone would refer to a legitimate rape is quite offensive, if not shocking.

And I think it highlight what we need still to do to educate people about crimes against women and violence against women and the need to take it seriously, so that we encourage victims to come forward, because often women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are reluctant to come forward because they are concerned that they will be unfairly judged.

GWEN IFILL: But Senator, in a conversation like we’re having this year about the economy, does it seem when we get stuck in social debates that we are off the point?  

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: No.

Women’s reproductive freedom, our ability to make our own health care decisions, the decision to make sure that being a woman is not a preexisting condition are fundamental to the well-being of women. The debates we’re having about whether Medicare will be privatized fundamentally affects seniors.

The majority of seniors are women. So when you’re talking about women who are becoming 65 and wondering is Medicare going to become a voucher system, that’s really important. And so what we’re seeing here is the defining of what Democrats stand for. We stand for equal pay for equal work. We stand for a safety net for our seniors that guarantees their health care.

We stand for opportunity for all American families and for every child in this country to reach their God-given potential. And fundamentally that also means being able to make decisions about your body. There’s a very big difference. And we have seen it’s not just about what Todd Akin said. It’s about this effort over the beginning of this Congress, HR-3, HR-1. The first bill was to take away a safety net for health care for women. HR-3 made abortion illegal.

These are the kind of things that the efforts were being made in these pieces of legislation.

KAMALA HARRIS: Right. And you can look at the issue of defunding of Planned Parenthood…

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Yes.

KAMALA HARRIS: … and the idea that it is a one-issue organization.

It’s about reproductive rights and the myriad of issues that come up for women in that area. And the idea that we would defund it I think also shows a certain level of ignorance, frankly, about the health needs and concerns that women have. And that’s what that comment highlighted to me.

And I think the policies that are being suggested as the smart policies by the Republican ticket should concern all women.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You talked about health…

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Which just gets back to your first question. If we had 51 percent of women in Congress, do you think we’d be debating birth control?  

KAMALA HARRIS: Exactly.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: No. We’d be talking about the economy. We’d be talking about jobs, what are the best economic engines and how can we create the better landscapes for these small businesses to be successful?  

KAMALA HARRIS: Exactly right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you. You both, I think, talked about health care. The Supreme Court had something important to say about health care, voted ultimately to uphold the president’s health care reform.

Attorney General Harris, it hasn’t really become an issue, a talking point yet in this campaign, but what’s at stake when it comes to the Supreme Court as to whether President Obama’s reelected or Governor Romney?  

KAMALA HARRIS: Oh, there’s so much that is at stake.

As a lawyer, I think that we know that the Supreme Court will make decisions that will impact us for generations to come. Think Brown v. Board of Education. Think of cases that have interpreted the Constitution of the United States around civil rights. And so when we talk about the importance of the presidency, it certainly is about present economic issues and things of that nature, but this could have impacts for hundreds of years who is nominated to the Supreme Court.

GWEN IFILL: I do have to ask this question. There are going to be 28 women paraded on the stage tonight to talk about the power of women in the Party. Shouldn’t we be past this?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Listen, we only have 17 percent of women in Congress. We only have 17 women senators. We only have six governors who are women.

We still have a very long way to go.

KAMALA HARRIS: Absolutely.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: And when the House of Representatives is having a hearing about access to birth control, and the first panel is devoid of a woman, women’s voices aren’t being heard.