Last week on Morning Joe, former Republican representative Joe Scarborough said with evident frustration that Republicans are “undermined by so many of the shrillest voices in [the] party.” He was referring to the blundering comments by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) about rape and pregnancy during a Judiciary Committee hearing on the unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban that passed the House earlier this week.
Unfortunately for Joe and the vanishing moderate wing of the Republican Party, extremist Republicans like Franks now represent the mainstream views of the Republican Party. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) openly admitted Tuesday on the House floor that even Franks’s offensive and unconstitutional bill was just the first step toward Republicans’ ultimate goal: banning all abortions in America.
Franks and many other elected Republicans like him actually believe, with conviction, that women’s bodies can magically prevent pregnancy from a rape and that women should not be able to make their own health decisions. No spin or talking points will fix this madness. The dominant Republican worldview is tone-deaf and extreme in its arrogant, condescending, and patriarchal posture toward women. As the Republican Party strives to undermine women's reproductive rights here in D.C. and with nearly 700 bills in state legislatures across the country, they are setting the stage for the women’s vote to yet again be a decisive voting block in 2014 and 2016 for the Democrats.
I oversaw President Obama’s women’s vote program in 2012. I remember very clearly the impact the Republican Party’s extreme positions on social issues like abortion and outrageous comments about rape, not to mention daily debates about vaginal probes, had on their candidate. Exit polls on Election Day showed an 18-point gender gap. Fundamentally, women voters care about bread-and-butter issues, but choice is a litmus test issue for many voters. Taking hostile and outdated positions automatically disqualifies a candidate before many women voters will even consider that candidate’s economic and other policies.
If Republicans cared about women, they would champion pay equity. While the Equal Pay Act has leveled the playing field considerably, women still make only 77 cents to every man’s dollar. This affects the women in our neighborhoods and communities. It also affects the children, husbands, and other family members who rely on those women’s salaries to make ends meet. But that makes too much sense. Not surprisingly, House Republicans recently blocked a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Senate Republicans also filibustered last year.
If the Republicans cared about women, they would promote policies that encourage family-friendly fairness in the workplace. For example, pregnancy discrimination complaints have risen dramatically in the last two decades. Many pregnant women in America receive no protection if they need physical accommodations during their pregnancy and can be fired if they cannot stand all day during their shift or lift heavy items. This disproportionally affects low-income women who have service jobs. If the House Judiciary committee, who spent last week debating if women can get pregnant from rape, actually cares about the health of the mother and the child, they should hold hearings on pregnancy discrimination and dedicate more funding for anti-discrimination enforcement.
If the Republicans cared about women, they would support basic labor standards like earned sick days. Women are increasingly both the primary breadwinner and the primary caregiver. Low-income women in particular do not have the ability to take a day off to be home with a sick child. Republican Gov. Rick Scott recently sided with big business and signed a bill to block local governments from implementing earned sick days, effectively banning it. This is shameful. The Republican Congress should support Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-CT) Healthy Families Act, which allows workers to earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to seven days of sick time per year.
Instead of supporting commonsense solutions that positively impact working women, Republican leadership made the political calculation to pull the anti-abortion bill out of Representative Franks’s hands and have a woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), manage the debate and be the face of their effort. It’s worth noting that Blackburn doesn’t even sit on the Judiciary Committee where the bill originated—nor does a single other woman on the Republican side.
Bad policy is bad policy, and women voters can see through this. That is not the type of leadership women voters or this country wants, needs, or rewards. Despite widespread support from voters of all political persuasions of actual family-friendly policies, supporting pay equity, earned sick days, and ending pregnancy discrimination will never happen with this current crop of Tea Party Republicans. Sadly, today's Republican Party lacks any understanding of the struggles women face today.
Buffy Wicks is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. She previously served as the national director of Operation Vote for the Obama for America campaign.