When it comes to understanding how House Republicans address the issue of gender diversity, there are a few different ways to evaluate the GOP’s performance. We could look at the number of women in the House Republican conference, the number in the House GOP leadership, the diversity among committee chairs, etc. Each tells us something significant – and in the case of the House majority party, each has been a bit of problem.
But Rebecca Leber flagged an angle that I hadn’t considered before: committee witnesses.
Women make up about one-fifth of Congress. They are just as poorly represented as witnesses in congressional hearings. According to a study from the Sunlight Foundation, women account for 23 percent of the witnesses of the more than 5,500 witnesses that have testified before House committees in the 113th Congress. Agriculture, Transportation, Armed Services, Financial Services all fared the worst, with fewer than 17 percent women. Education and the Workforce had the best ratio, of 40 percent female.
Naturally, the classic example that comes to mind is the February 2012 incident in which House Republicans held a hearing on contraception access, and the opening panel was made up entirely of men.
But this wasn’t an isolated incident; it’s practically the norm. When Republican-led House committees can choose anyone they wish to offer congressional testimony, men are now outnumbering women by more than a three-to-one margin.
Perhaps if there were more women lawmakers in charge of committees, we’d see greater balance, but this has been a problem, too. Let’s not forget that after the 2012 elections, House Republican leaders appointed 19 committee chairs for the new Congress, only to discover they’d chosen 19 white men. The party scrambled and found a woman to chair the Rules Committee – despite the fact that she wasn’t actually on the Rules Committee at the time.
And maybe there’d be more women serving as committee chairs if Republicans elected more women to the U.S. House, but that too has been an issue.
David Wasserman points out that “89 percent of House Republicans are white men, compared to just 47 percent of House Democrats. For some context, according to 2013 Census estimates just 31 percent of U.S. residents are non-Hispanic white males.”“Even in the last two years, the demographic chasm between the parties has widened. Eight members of the 113th House of Representatives have been elected in special elections since 2012. All six Republican winners have been white men, five of whom prevailed over women in their primaries. Both Democratic winners have been women who prevailed over men in their primaries.”
Addressing diversity concerns means acknowledging diversity concerns. During the Republicans’ government shutdown last fall, GOP leaders thought they’d come up with a brilliant stunt: they’d send leading Republican lawmakers to a conference room, position them opposite empty chairs, and show how eager they were to negotiate (i.e., they were willing to listen to Democrats try to make them happy with a series of offers).
Party officials snapped photos and distributed them widely, oblivious to appearances: Republicans had chosen eight middle-aged, far-right white guys, most of whom are from the South, and lined them up next to each other. When they promoted the photo, GOP leaders never stopped to notice that everyone in the room looked remarkably similar to one another.
Perhaps, when they see committee witness lists , there’s a similar problem.