Second-term Rep. Diane Black was chosen last week to sit at the conference table alongside three senior lawmakers, a surprise pick that will catapult the Tennessee Republican into her highest-profile role yet. In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Black said Speaker John A. Boehner called her early in the day on Oct. 16 to ask if she'd be interested in the position, but she didn't know it was a done deal until later that night. Black couldn't say why exactly the Ohio Republican chose her to serve on the prestigious panel tasked with producing a budget by Dec. 13.
A few weeks ago, House Republicans thought they'd come up with a clever little public-relations stunt. They'd send House GOP leaders to a conference room, position them opposite empty chairs, and show how eager they are to "ready to negotiate."
The plan backfired spectacularly. Republicans chose 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 officials never stopped to notice that everyone in the room looked remarkably similar to one another.
As bipartisan, bicameral budget talks draw closer, the notoriety surrounding the p.r. stunt gone wrong has lingered in the Republican consciousness, and House Speaker actually found a woman to participate in the negotiations.
We can only speculate, though it seems likely that gender had something to do with it.
Indeed, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) told Roll Call Black's appointment was the direct result of intra-party embarrassment. When Ellmers complained about the image at a recent conference meeting, Boehner reportedly acknowledged that GOP leaders had made a "mistake."
If this dynamic sounds at all familiar to you, there's a good reason. 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.
It's also reminiscent of the February 2012 incident in which House Republicans held a hearing on contraception access, and the opening panel was made up entirely of men.
The good news, Republican leaders seem to recognize the need to scramble, working around the issue that their conference is dominated by middle-aged white men. The bad news is, Republican leaders have to keep scrambling, because their conference is dominated by middle-aged white men.