Women in the Senate Explain Why They Do it Better

Diane Sawyer with the women of the U.S. Senate. (Photo: ABC/Martin Simon)

Diane Sawyer with the women of the U.S. Senate. (Photo: ABC/Martin Simon)

Yesterday, a record 20 women were sworn in to the U.S. Senate. To mark the occasion ABC’s World News With Diane Sawyer had all of the female senators on for a group interview. One of the major topics of the discussion was the belief of many of the senators that they achieve better results than their male colleagues on a variety of issues including the budget, immigration reform and climate change. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow got the ball rolling when she suggested women are more inclined to get results by working in a bipartisan manner.

“It was the first time in 2001 when we had enough women to actually be on every committee, to have a woman’s voice, a woman’s experience [and] a woman’s values on every committee. You fast forward to now, the new year. There will be six of us chairing committees and other women in the ranking member spot,” Ms. Stabenow said. “And I think the public understands to get things done, we’re the ones that want to work across the aisle to do that.”

Maine Senator Susan Collins took the argument a step further by saying if women were in charge of the Senate and in the White House there would be a solution to the budget debate that has gripped Washington.

“I think if we were in charge of the Senate and of the administration that we would have a budget deal by now,” Ms. Collins said. 

When New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte weighed in, she backed away from Ms. Collins’ point and said she was’t sure a Senate and Executive branch controlled by women would have completed a budget deal.

“Well, I think that–you know, women are great problem solvers,” said Ms. Ayotte. “I don’t know if it would get done, but I know that the people here are committed to making sure that we solve our problems.”

Ms. Sawyer pressed the point and asked how that was “different” from the male senators. Ms. Ayotte disagreed with the assertion women would be better problem solvers in the Senate than men.

“I think to say that men aren’t focused on solving problems wouldn’t–wouldn’t be accurate,” Ms. Ayotte said.

Ms. Collins stepped back in to defend her point.

“Let me just finish my thought on that,” said Ms. Collins. “What I find is with all due difference to–deference to our male colleagues, that women’s styles tend to be more collaborative.”

Later on in the interview, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski said she believes women bring a “sense of timeliness” to the Senate that is not shared by their male colleagues.

“I can tell you every single one of these women has great pressure on them not only for their constituents, but their families. We don’t believe in the culture of delay,” Ms. Mikulski said. “In this institution if they can delay a problem, pick an argument–and wait till next year they’ll do it. Us, we want to get it done. And I think that’s the impact when women are chairing these committees to involve, to listen, mutual respect, mutual trust and get the job done.”

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu cited a specific issue where she felt the female perspective was advantageous–immigration reform.

“I’ll give you a specific on immigration reform. And I think this could come naturally to us. There’s a big issue right now about S.T.E.M., about science, technology, engineering and math and extending immigration visas for doctoral candidates,” said Ms. Landrieu. “When I first heard that I thought it was a great idea. But my thought was, ‘I wonder about their spouses. Are they gonna get visas as well?’ I mean, I don’t know if a man would have thought of that. I mean, I think a perspective–when we’re doing immigration reform we’re thinking of not just the individuals…the visa but the family, their relationships with children or with….I think that’s just one example. There could be many more. But without a woman at the table that might not come up. It could, but it may not. I think it comes up more quickly.”

Ms. Sawyer went on to ask the assembled female senators whether any of them might be future presidents. Washington’s Patty Murray responded that women would bring a different outlook to a presidential campaign than men.

“I think the thing is–is that every man wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and says, ‘I could be president,’” Ms. Murray said. “I think every woman looks in the mirror and says, ‘What can I get done for my country today?’”

California Senator Dianne Feinstein chimed in to say that having less testosterone makes female politicians more effective.

“I think one of the things that we have done throughout our career is earned a portfolio of expertise. We have worked our way up, we have done our apprenticeship. We understand how government should function and we want to play a role toward that positive functioning. This is one of the reasons I think women become effective originally, that they can sound that call,” said Ms. Feinstein. “Another reason I think, you know, we’re less on testosterone. We don’t have that need to always be confrontational. And I think we’re problem solvers, and I think that’s what this country needs.”

Ms. Feinstein continued by suggesting climate change is another issue women in the Senate may make more progress on than men have.

“I was just gonna say one other thing. If you take a big issue that men have not been able to solve, it’s the issue of climate change,” she explained. “What would happen if 20 of us cosponsored a bill? What would happen if we went out and mobilized American women to support that bill? It may…this may be a real point of major differentiation that we could get this done for America and essentially lead the way.”

Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin concurred that women might be able to make more progress on climate change because of their “unique capability” to think about future generations.

“On that topic, I think that there’s unique capability of being able to think about the effect of our actions today on generations hence that women share,” Ms. Baldwin said. “We have that long range vision.”

Watch Ms. Sawyer’s full interview with the senators below.