They are now among the most powerful women in Congress. But when they were first elected in the 1990s, they were often overlooked, or even talked down to.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, remembers that men would avoid asking her questions, addressing other men in the room instead. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., says a male colleague once challenged her at a hearing to describe a military tank engine produced in her district without looking at her notes. (She shot back: “Damn straight I can!”)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, says that one of the first times she chaired a committee hearing, she looked around the room and realized she was the only female senator there. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., recalls being seated on the far edge of the committee dais, with the more senior men making the decisions in the middle.
“I remember finally just standing up at the end of the table going, ‘Excuse me!’ Because you couldn’t get their attention,” Murray says. “Everything was decided in the middle of this table. I think it’s pretty amazing that we’re at the middle of the table now
This year, for the first time in history, the four leaders of the two congressional spending committees are women. Granger is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, while DeLauro is the top Democrat; Murray is Senate Appropriations chairwoman and Collins is the top Republican.
Sitting down with The Associated Press on Thursday for their first joint interview — and joined by Shalanda Young, the first Black woman to lead the Office of Management and Budget and a former House aide — the women talked like old friends, nodding and laughing in agreement when listening to each others’ stories about the way things used to be for women, and sometimes still are.
When they were elected, Collins says, men were automatically accepted once they came to Congress but women still had to prove themselves. “That extra barrier that was definitely in place still exists to some extent, but far less than it used to,” Collins said. “Women bring different life experiences and different perspectives. And that’s why it matters.”