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Why it’s so hard to get Republican women in Congress

Of the record 36 women newly elected to Congress in the 2018 midterms, only one was a Republican. The party’s continued struggle to attract female candidates hit a new setback recently when political newcomer Joan Perry lost her North Carolina primary. Lisa Desjardins talks to Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., about why it’s so hard to put Republican women in Congress, especially in leadership roles.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: The record-setting wave of women elected to Congress was a defining feature of the 2018 midterms. But of the 36 women newly elected to the House of Representatives, only one was a Republican.

    And the party's efforts to court more women hit another setback this week, when political newcomer Joan Perry lost her GOP primary race in North Carolina.

    Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins is back. She spoke earlier with Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko of Arizona's 8th District.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thank you for joining us, Congresswoman.

    First of all…

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … what do you think happened in North Carolina, and how significant was that?

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    Well, you know, I really want to support Republican women.

    We lost 10 Republican women in the last election cycle. And since I'm a Republican and I'm a woman, I'm really going to try to work hard to recruit more women and make sure they get elected.

    And so I had donated to Joan Perry. But I congratulate Mr. Murphy, and I think he's going to win. I look forward to working with him and getting to know him better.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I know you have heard some of these numbers before, but I want to just look at Republicans in the House right now.

    There's a couple ways to slice these numbers. First of all, if you look at all the women in the House of Representatives, it's a record number of women; 89 are Democrats. Just 13 of you are Republican women.

    Then, if you look at the composition of each political caucus or conference, 42 percent of all the Democrats in the House are women. But, for Republicans, it's just 7 percent.

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    I know. It's sad. We need to increase the numbers. So, I'm the bipartisan…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But why is this?

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    Well, I'm the bipartisan co-chairwoman of the Women's Caucus in Congress.

    And so, yes, it's a little one-sided, because I try to get all my Republican women to our different events. But there's a lot more Democrats.

    I don't know the answer. I think one of the answers is recruiting Republican women for heavily Republican districts, because we have a lot of women that lost that were in swing districts. And the Democrats, quite frankly, tried to take us out, so that they could continue the narrative that there's more males in the Republican Party than women.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Whatever narratives you believe, looking at the numbers, especially from the Center for Women in Politics from Rutgers, they looked at who was running last year.

    And just on the ballot, Democrats had four times as many women running. And I know, from covering Republicans for years, being near grassroots, women are doing the work in the Republican Party. They are there on the local level. I see them.

    My question to you is, why are they not getting on the ballot? Why are they not running?

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    You know, I don't know the answer to that.

    And it may have to do with recruiting or just showing people like me and trying to get more Republican women in leadership positions. I mean, Liz Cheney is in a leadership position right now. And maybe, as more women see that it's possible and that there's Republican conservative women out there, then I think more people will join our ranks.

    I sure hope so, because it can get a little lonely over here. I got to recruit more Republican women that are conservatives.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I have heard you and others say they don't think there should be an advantage to being a woman. People shouldn't vote for someone just because you're a woman.

    But I'm curious, could there be a disadvantage to being a woman in politics that the party needs to make up for?

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    You know what's interesting is, at the state level, when I served in the Arizona State Senate and the Arizona Statehouse, I really saw no difference between how I was treated as a woman vs. a man.

    But I have to tell you, there is a little bit of an attitude here that I found with some congressional members, both on — well, mostly, quite frankly, that I work with on the Democrat side this time, that are kind of condescending to me in different roles.

    And I have pointed it out to them, and I do not let them get away with it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the Republican side, covering Congress last year, it was hard not to notice, when Republicans were in charge, just three out of 21 committee chairs were women.

    And many of your strongest female leaders left the House for other positions elsewhere. Do you feel like the men in the House Republican Conference actually promote women enough? Is there space for you to lead?

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    Well, I think we just need more of us.

    We're — we just need more women. And, as that happens, we will naturally have more Republican women in leadership and in chairmanship roles. If any Republican conservative women are out there listening, please reach out to me. I would love to talk to you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Congresswoman Debbie Lesko of Maricopa County, Arizona, thank you so much.

  • Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:

    Thank you.

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