June 26, 2020

Trailblazers Special: Rising Stars

Margaret Hoover interviews several female Republican rising stars in Congress: Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY), Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Sen. Joni Ernst (IA) and Rep. Liz Cheney (WY). They discuss the effort to recruit more GOP women in Congress.

Read Full Transcript EXPAND

There are more women in Congress than ever before, but only a fraction of them are Republicans.

We are facing a crisis level of Republican women in Congress.

There are just 22 Republican women in all of Congress, but they include the youngest Republican woman ever elected, the first female combat veteran in the Senate, the only Hispanic Republican woman in Congress, and the woman who some say could be the GOP’s first, Madam Speaker.

Strong women want national security.
Strong women want to know that we’re going to protect the border of this nation.

This week on a special edition of ‘Firing Line.’

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by… Support for this episode was provided by viewers like you.
Thank you.

That’s Elise Stefanik from upstate New York on her victory night in 2014, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time.
Full disclosure — Stefanik has been endorsed this election cycle by a political group in which I am an officer that supports Republicans who advance LGBT equality, American Unity PAC.

I believe deeply in the Constitution.
I believe deeply in liberty and freedom.
The principles of peace through strength drive the way I focus on foreign policy and national security issues.

She learned about the importance of small businesses from her family’s company.

We are a plywood wholesale distributor.
The trucks have to be on the road five days out of the week, and the economic impact of upstate New York is felt by small businesses.
So I understood from a child up to high school how integral small businesses are to our local economy.

Stefanik was the first in her family to graduate from college at Harvard and worked in the White House for President George W. Bush.

Today, I am proud to introduce the Wage Equity Act.

Stefanik developed a reputation in Congress as a moderate.
She broke with the Trump administration on the travel ban…
I don’t think we should have a religious litmus test.

…on climate change…
There are policies that I’ve disagreed with, as well as rhetoric that I’ve disagreed with.

…and was one of only 12 Republicans to vote against the 2017 tax cuts.

My big problem with the tax bill is it penalized high tax states, and unfortunately, we are in a very high tax state.

Last November, she became known for something else.

Mr. Chairman, I have a parliamentary inquiry.

The gentle woman is not recognized.
I do want to comment.

Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order under H-Res 660.

The gentle woman will state her point of order.

The point of order is, will the chairman continue to prohibit witnesses from answering Republican questions, as you’ve done in closed hearings and as you did this week…
The gentle woman will suspend.

…when you interrupted our questions.

That is not a proper point of order.

Stefanik went all in for President Trump during the impeachment hearing.

And are you aware that during the Obama administration, the U.S. partnered with the U.K. and Ukraine on an investigation into the owner of Burisma as part of Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts?

I became aware of it today during the hearing.

Other witnesses have testified, but yes.

A lot of people were suddenly paying attention.

When she opens that mouth, you are killing them, Elise.
You were killing them.

I’m very proud of those questions.
I’m very proud of standing up for the Constitution.
There’s no evidence for impeachable offenses.
And my constituents are very proud that I stood up for their voice.

Alright.
You want this video before.
You know, my mother, she used to take us up to the state capital every year to see our government in action.
I was pleased to help get this bill through the House.

Jaime Herrera Beutler, who represents Washington State’s 3rd Congressional District, is the only Hispanic Republican woman in Congress.

I think it was during one of the field trips to the state capital where I remember thinking, ‘I think I want to do this.
I think this is — I think public service is part of me.’
Thank you, Madam Chair.
And thank you, Doctor, for being here.

Herrera Beutler is a working mom with three young children, all born since she’s been in office.
Her first pregnancy was a struggle.

She had bilateral renal agenesis, which commonly known as Potter’s syndrome.
Her condition was 100 percent fatal.
So there was no child that had ever survived it.
And when the doctors delivered us that news, you can imagine the devastation that we felt.

She and her husband took a chance on an experimental therapy involving salient injections during pregnancy.
After spending the first five months of her life in the hospital, Abigail came home.

She is Abigail Rose Butler, who, of course, is the daughter of our friend.
[ Applause ]
She’s fabulous.
She’s sharp as a tack.
She has told me more than once she’s going to have my job someday.
Little kiddos often can’t get the care they need.
And today we’re taking a step to fix it.

She has a strong record of supporting bipartisan legislation, pushing through dozens of bills on everything from protecting Columbia River salmon…
I can’t express how important this hydro system is for the entire Northwest.

…improving STEM education…
I support this bill because it’s going to help teachers and students.

…to helping mothers take breast milk on airplanes.

You can travel with your frozen breast milk, which I have a lot of.
TSA allows up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice, so we’ll see if I can talk them into letting me — I mean, it just depends.
I’m a Hispanic Republican young mom.
I’ve had three children in Congress.
I commute from the West Coast.
I love my district.
I’m exactly the type of voice that needs to be present in the United States Congress because women are over half of the population in the nation, and our voice here is so critical.

Senator Joni Ernst is the first female combat veteran in the Senate.

I think conservative views have changed significantly.

And the first woman elected to the United States Senate from Iowa.

Look around our nation, whether it’s COVID or civil unrest.
I think women have a really wonderful way of sharing compassion with others.
And when you feel that someone truly cares about you and cares about your issues, you’re more likely to be drawn into a conversation, into solutions.

In the Senate, there are now nine Republican women, more than ever.
But in the House of Representatives, there are just 13, the lowest number in a generation.

If you’re talking about now, it’s no accident.
Nancy Pelosi was very effective and very targeted and it was a very concerted effort to defeat Republican women.
And so it’s not sort of by accident that we are where we are.
I think we have to do better.
We’ve got to elect more women.
We also need to make sure that our message as Republicans is getting out to women across the country.

First of all, wow.

Elise Stefanik has created a new political action committee, E-PAC, to help elect more Republican women to the House of Representatives.

That means that Republican women make up less than 3% of the House of Representatives.
One way we can attempt to change this trend is by supporting strong women candidates pre-primary.

I have found that we tend to be the targets from the other side because we’re the harder ones to beat, right?
We’re the ones that can make a bigger difference because we break the narrative that Republicans don’t like women.

Representative Herrera Beutler and Representative Stefanik, thank you for being part of this ‘Firing Line’ roundtable special on trailblazing women in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Thank you so much.
Excited to be here.

Absolutely.

So you are both up for re-election this year, as you are every two years.
But this year in 2020 is different for Republican women because more than 220 Republican women have filed to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.
Why is that?

Well, thank you, Margaret, for the question.
It is so exciting this year that we have a historic number of Republican women running for office.
I think there are a few reasons why we’ve seen this tremendous outpouring of candidates who are raising their hand to step into the arena.
Number one, they have role models to look to.
Number two, we’re helping them develop strong campaign infrastructures just to win the primaries and general elections.
And I think the fact that we made a very public call as Republicans that we need more women running for office, I think that really paid off.
And remember, there was some pushback to that initially at the start of this cycle, but it has been embraced and we’re really reaping the benefits with these amazing candidates.

What was that pushback, Representative Stefanik?

Initial pushback from some people was we don’t play that type of identity politics.
But my belief is this is not about identity politics.
This is making sure that our candidates reflect America and the diversity that we have across America with voters who support the Republican Party and conservative principles.

Representative Herrera Beutler, you are the first Hispanic Republican woman to be elected in the state of Washington.
So can you square that circle for me?
How does the Republican Party and how do you as a conservative, think about reaching out to new constituencies without relying on the identity politics that conservatism rejects?

You know, honestly, the one thing that I have learned throughout this entire process is be yourself.
Sometimes you have to invite yourself to the party, which I did.
When I got involved in my early 20s, you know, volunteering and going to events, I didn’t know anybody and I just kind of pushed.
And I think what you’re seeing now, in addition to what Elise has set up with supporting women, getting them through their primaries, women are stepping up to run because they see and sense the intensity of the times.
I really believe that.
You know, now more than ever, I think they realize they have to be at the table helping make the decisions.

How did we get here?
Because if we look back 15 years ago, there were twice as many of you in Congress than there are now.
So how did the GOP find itself in a position where there are only 11 Republican incumbent women running for re-election?

So I’m going to take a stab at this one because I get asked this all the time.
So as you mention, I’m the first Hispanic woman from Washington state to be elected federally.
And you know what I’ve discovered?
A lot of what the opposition I’ve faced hasn’t actually been within my own party.
It’s been in political players on the other side who seek to take our seats out because we’re the ones that destroy the narrative that Republicans don’t support women.
And so what I felt, you know, Michael Bloomberg spent a million and a half dollars trying to unseat me in the last election.

Representative Stefanik, back when you launched E-PAC, Elevate PAC, which is a political action committee devoted to identifying and supporting Republican women as they run through their primaries, you said… What is it that makes it a crisis, having only 13 Republican women in the House of Representatives?

Well, Margaret, it really struck me when we were meeting with our newly elected members and it was the new congressional class.
And I looked around and it was just not reflective of the American people.
And some of my colleagues were taken aback.
They weren’t expecting that comment.
But it really spurred in me a call to action that we have to do better.
That’s why I started E-PAC.
I’m supporting 26 candidates.
And the goal at the end of this cycle is to increase our number of Republican women in the House.

Representative Herrera Beutler, why will the Republican conference be better if there are more women amongst its ranks?

I think both the conference and Congress as a whole will benefit if it more accurately reflects the American people, period.
You know, I started the Maternity Care caucus with Lucille Roybal-Allard.
She’s a Democrat from down in the L.A. area.
And I was shocked that after all this time, nothing like it had been started.
You know, we had wins with helping — making sure that TSA was going to allow the traveling mom to carry her breast milk through without getting it dumped out.

And thank you for that.

Oh, don’t even — I have stories.
Don’t even get me started on that one.
And we also were able to get, you know, in this last — I think it was the last year when President Trump signed into law a landmark maternal mortality legislation.
That needed to happen.
I think we’re gonna see more of those types of legislation move forward if we more accurately reflect that in the conference and then in the Congress as a whole.

I want to take you guys back to the State of the Union right after that historic year, 2018.
Let me just show you an image and get your reaction on that on that backside of it.

Exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before.
[ Cheers and applause ]
Were either of you asked to wear white in solidarity with other women?

I wasn’t, but I think that possibly underscores some of my challenge.
What you saw in that video was if you’re like us and you think like us and you’ll act like us, you can be part of the, you know, the new woman’s club.
But if you don’t, you’re on the outside, which to me, I don’t know about you, Elise.
Makes me feel even more diverse.
We’re gonna chart our path irrespective of whether or not we have a group.

Yeah, my comments on that, Margaret, is I think it was a gracious moment and I think it was important that the President talk about the fact that we are making history with over 100 women.
That was not just Democratic women.
It wasn’t the image you showed.
But that count also includes really important voices in the Republican Party, many of whom are in leadership and have outsized roles in the Republican conference.
And I also think it’s important, as we’re celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage, that the suffrage movement is also deeply, deeply a part of the Republican Party.
And that is something that we need to talk about more effectively to our voters.
And it’s something that we can be very proud of, that the suffrage movement was very much a part of the Republican Party and still is today a part of the Republican Party in terms of expanding equal opportunity for women.

I’d like to take you both to two sets of current events.
The first is the tragic death of George Floyd.
And I’d like to get both of your reactions to the events that have happened in the past couple of weeks.

Sure.
So I believe that America’s heart broke across the country when people watch the horrifying footage of George Floyd’s death.
I support prosecuting the officers involved to the fullest extent as swiftly as possible.
I think that’s an important message for other law enforcement officers.
What has been very upsetting to me as a New Yorker is the rioting and looting and attacks and violence against law enforcement officers.
We want safety and security for every American across this country.
And that, unfortunately, has been lost as we’ve seen the violence and loss of life stemming from some of these riots.

Representative Herrera Beutler, in your view, what will justice be for George Floyd?

Oh, well, if I had the full and complete answer to this, I would give it.
But I’m searching.
I’m searching right now with the rest of America.
You know, when I saw what happened, my primary response was anger.
I was furious.
And unfortunately, this isn’t a singular event.
I think racial injustice is real and America is better than this.
You know, obviously, there are people who wear a badge who shouldn’t.
And as policymakers and elected leaders, we need to figure out how to support getting those folks out of law enforcement.
I will also say I 100 percent believe that our law enforcement do jobs that protect us and are so critical to our way of life.
And I’m grateful that a vast majority of them are doing it for the right reasons and they’re good people.

Well, you are both, Representative Herrera Beutler and Representative Stefanik, from places that have had a really important role in the other story that has taken over the country in the last several months, and that’s the COVID-19 pandemic.
Representative Herrera Beutler, you are from a state that had the first cases of COVID-19.
and, Representative Stefanik, you are from the state that became the epicenter of the pandemic in this country.
Was there a moment where either of you hoped or thought that this crisis might bring the country together?

I think this crisis did bring communities in this country together.
If you look at our legislative results that we delivered, these were historic economic rescue packages that passed almost unanimously out of the House and Senate.
That is a tremendous positive example of coming together.

And yet you are — you’re both fiscal conservatives.
You have both, throughout the course of your time in Congress, stood for a real fiscal responsibility, especially holding Republicans up to that standard.
And there has been now trillions of dollars passed in the context of federal relief, economic relief for COVID-19.
As fiscal conservatives, I’ll go to you, Representative Herrera Beutler, how are you thinking about moving forward?

Well, I think we need to look at this in context.
And, you know, I’m a member of the Joint Economic Committee.
I’m an appropriator in the House.
And we have been spending a lot of time talking about this in the context of, of course, we don’t want to print money and waste it.
But we also need to underpin what has been a global crisis, not of our own making.
So it wasn’t that the economy was having a structural problem as much as the government came in and said, ‘You can’t work.
You can’t operate.
You have to shut everything down.’
And it was for public health.
My belief was the government was responsible then for trying to at least make whole or prop up or do what they could to offset the damage being done.
And that’s what these rescue packages have been.
And now it’s how do we get our economy moving again?
How do we allow people to open back up?
And that’s how we’re gonna get, I think, deficits under control.
We have to have an economic engine to produce goods and services in order to get those things righted.
But it was either spend some now or let it continue to develop and spend a whole lot more later.
And I think that what you saw was a bipartisan response to try and stem the tide.

The latest CNN polling has data that says that 62% of women have said that they will vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump.
How do you think that President Trump is doing with women, Representative Stefanik?

Sure, so, I think if you look historically, the Republican Party has trouble winning women voters.
I think the President is doing well in terms of the economic message, in terms of the law and order message.
There are many people that maybe disagree with his tweets.
But I do think people are looking for economic opportunity.
They’re looking for a strong education system, and they don’t like this attack on law enforcement that they’re seeing.
And, you know, I think it’s going to be a long race between now and Election Day.
But I think the President has a very strong record to run on when it comes to opportunities for women in this country.

Representative Herrera Beutler, how do you think President Trump is doing with women?

Do I think the way the President presents his ideas or his opinions is appropriate?
Not always.
Oftentimes I feel like, you know, it’s the cringe meter.
Am I going to cringe when that happens or not?
But I also cringe when I think about Joe Biden and his ability to handle China and how they’re, you know — whether it’s the trade imbalance or other things, so ultimately, I think the candidate who’s able to really serve the public and move the economy forward is the one that’s going to win the vote irrespective of gender.

You both have voted with President Trump roughly 80% of the time.
And I wonder, have you all, either of you, received pushback or been criticized for not having voted with the President more often?

You know, I actually couldn’t answer whether or not people have criticized me on that front or not, because I don’t tend to read a lot of the — I don’t follow a lot of the scorecards.
What I found is if I’m answering the needs and answering to the people in this district and I’m getting things done, elections do take care of themselves.
I do think, you know, there are some on the right who really would rather me be more focused on supporting the President.
And there’s some on the left who are just furious that I haven’t taken him out of office somehow, right?
The people of my district voted for him in 2016.
I actually did not.
I wrote in another Republican.
And I definitely took some some flak for that.
But I think what I’ve come to is I usually start with those things that I’m working on that he agrees with and we can work together on, and those things where he disagrees with, I push back on just like I did with Barack Obama.

I’m going to ask that question a little bit differently to you, Representative Stefanik.
There are many in the media who go to a Republican woman in Congress and they say, how are you a Republican woman in the party of Donald Trump?
How do you respond to that?

Well, you know, I think that shows the bias in the media.
I voted for President Trump in the 2016 elections.
I am co-chairing his campaign in New York state.
I support his policies.
But most importantly, I vote my district.
And the president understands that the most important aspect of serving is keeping your promises to your constituents and always putting your district first.
And that is what I do every single day.

So, since both of you have cleared the hurdle of being elected Republican women in the House of Representatives, what would you advise first-time Republican women candidates who especially the ones in swing districts who have to thread a very difficult needle, right?
They are women in the Republican Party.
This is the question they’re getting.
And frankly, they may not like some of the tweets from the President and frankly, they may not like some of the words or actions of the President.
What do you advise them to do in terms of how to navigate that political minefield?

Well, most of the Republican candidates that I’m working with who are women, strongly support the President.
And when they disagree, they say so.
There are examples of tweets where they disagree.
And what I’ve advised them is you have to focus on your district and you are running to serve your community and you have to demonstrate an ability to get things done with the President of the United States, and be able to deliver results.
I think that’s really important.
And I think that’s a weakness on the left and in the Democratic Party for many Democrats who are in Trump districts is they have been unable to work with the President to deliver results for their community.

Representative Herrera Beutler?

I went through this when Barack Obama was the President.
I didn’t agree with him on a number of issues, but I had to find ways forward to work with him to get things done for the people I serve.
And I did.
The advice I would give would be do the exact same thing with this President.
You know, to the degree you agree with him on things.
go for it.
If it’s going to serve your constituents, work with him.
If it’s not, if it’s going to create problems or harm, then you have to take him on like you would anybody else.
But you don’t have to make it personal.
And I think this is where leadership really is so critical and it isn’t ‘I’m going to tell you that I’m right and we have to do it my way.’
It’s ‘I’m going to see the humanity in you.
Even if I disagree with you and I’m going to treat you with respect,’ and that ultimately, I think all sides could use more of that.
Republicans could.
Democrats could.
Nancy Pelosi could.
Donald Trump could.
We all could.
And I think if you’re going to run for office right now, you have to recognize people aren’t always going to treat you humanely.
They’re not gonna be respectful.
They’re not going to be kind.
But if you respond to them with kindness, you’re going to go a whole lot further in this role if you choose that path.
It’s the higher road, but I think it yields more fruit.

Representative Herrera Beutler, Representative Elise Stefanik, thank you very much for joining this ‘Firing Line’ roundtable on trailblazing women in the House of Representatives.

Thanks, Margaret.

Thank you.

Thank you.

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by… Support for this episode was provided by viewers like you.
Thank you.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪
You’re watching PBS.