‘We are the table’: Meet the women who made history controlling the most powerful levers of the US government

When Susan Collins first came to the Senate in 1997, a male colleague approached her about committee duties and suggested that Maine Republicans would want to serve on the education and childcare boards. em.

“I said, ‘Yes, those things are really important,'” Collins recalls. Then she told her colleague, “And I want to join the Armed Services Committee.”

It was seen as a bold request at a time when only a handful of women served in Congress and they didn’t even have their own bathrooms, let alone coveted committee seats or powerful hammer. But more than 25 years later, Collins – along with Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas and Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut – will hold the top positions. on the Appropriations Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. , an influential group on Capitol Hill commonly known as the “Four Corners.”

That, combined with the fact that Shalanda Young heads the Office of Management and Budget, means that for the first time in history, women will hold the purse strings in Washington. The powerful spending committees in Congress oversee the annual federal budget of about $1.7 trillion and are responsible for formulating policies that affect almost every corner of American life.

“People will say, ‘We have to give you a seat at the table.’ Hell, we’re the table,” DeLauro said. “The four of us here – five with Shalanda Young – are controlling, really, the most powerful levers of government.”

And with a deadline to fund the government and raise the nation’s borrowing limit later this year, it’s up to these four women to pull the country off the brink of financial disaster — the task not easy in a divided and hyperpolarized government, and with razor-thin majority in both chambers.

“There’s going to be obstacles thrown at us every day and we’re all going to realize that,” says Murray. “There will be people trying to stop us from succeeding every day.” “I’m sure this is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve done since I’ve been here. What makes me happy is that I have great partners on both sides of the Capitol and both. inside our private meetings.”

In an exclusive joint interview on television, the quartet sat down with CNN to candidly discuss their plans to access work, the pressure to prove women can do the job effectively – if not to say better – than his male counterparts and why they think it took so long to break the “men’s club” in Washington.

“This is a very special time as we work together,” said Granger, the first Republican woman to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives and the first female mayor of Fort Worth. “We’ve all worked together on different things. But this is a difference. I think seeing us do this will be very important for young women.”

Women have followed in their footsteps. A young Granger employee also became the mayor of Fort Worth. And before taking the helm at OMB, Young – the first black woman to lead the agency – was a top aide on the House Appropriations Committee, engaged in key funding negotiations, and was hired by the board of directors. Members on both sides respect.

From beauty shop to power center

Granger, 80, made history in 2019 with Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, when they both ran the House Appropriations Committee. It is the first time a pair of women has led a congressional committee since 1977, when two female lawmakers oversaw the House Selection Committee on Beauty Stores, the body that oversees operations at the salons. beauty salon in the office building of the House of Representatives.

“It has never been assumed that women can take on matters of foreign policy, budgets, finance, any of these areas,” says DeLauro, 79.

All Four Corners were elected in the 1990s, when women in Congress were still scarce. Murray, 72, recalls that her class of senators was known as the “Year of the Women” — and there were only six female senators after her election in 1992. She said men would treat them. with her with anxiety when she was in the room.

Now the tide has turned, with record numbers of women serving in the office and holding key positions of power.

Murray recently became the first woman to hold the post of pro tempore of the Senate, a senior position in the chamber that puts her third on the run for president.

“We wanted to give a man the chance to be head of the Beauty Store,” Collins, 70, quips about women climbing the ranks.

DeLauro, who is known for his colorful fashion choices and purple-striped hair, then pitched another idea to a committee that men can now lead: “Barbershop!”

Tough road ahead

With Nancy Pelosi resigning as the top House leader in the Democratic Party, the “Big Four” congressional leaders are now all men.

Newly created House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy – who oversees a paper-thin GOP majority that includes right-wing inclusion – is demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, raising the risk of risk of default and complicate the work ahead for the Four Corners.

Asked if they could guarantee that there would be no government shutdown during their watch, Murray replied cautiously, what seemed like an admission that some things were out of reach. their control: “None of us want chaos. We all want our families, our communities, and our lives, the businesses and the people we represent, to know they can. go to work, take care of the family, and know that we’re here to do what needs to be done.”

The group feels a responsibility to demonstrate that negotiations can be successful, with collectivism, camaraderie, and compromise — not pretense and defined crater strategy. past funding wars. DeLauro and Granger have had two years of experience working together on top of the House spending panel.

With Republicans taking control of the House earlier this month, Granger is now chairman of the Appropriations Committee and DeLauro is a senior Democrat. Murray will become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee with Collins as the ranking Republican.

DeLauro says: “There’s probably no feeling that you have to be superior or shine, etc. We know what to accomplish. “And we want to make sure we’re giving each other the strength to do that.”

“We can be tough, and we can be kind,” added Murray.

Collins concurs: “We can be both at the same time.”

They say decades of work in government have shed some light on the differences between how male and female lawmakers tend to operate.

“Women, they’re good listeners. And you learn a lot by listening, not just talking,” says Granger. “We share information about what we’re doing, which is very helpful.”

Those differences are especially evident when female legislators feel more pressure to do their homework.

“Every female legislator I know brings home a thick summary book every night,” says Collins. “And I remember (former Republican Senator of Tennessee) Fred Thompson … once said to one of our male colleagues: ‘Susan has a secret. She’s prepared.'”

The other difference is more literal. Murray says her posh office space on the Capitol – one of the perks of her senior position – was once occupied by men smoking cigars.

She’s glad it’s gone.

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