INTERVIEW: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Women, Work, and Politics
GHL: I’d like to talk a little about what it’s been like for you as a woman as you’ve risen from the local level to the national level. The conversation about women, work, motherhood, and “leaning in” has really been a hot topic lately. You’re the mother of three, and you actually were serving in Congress when your children were born. What kind of support did you have to make that possible? And what kind of policies can help other women as they try to raise families and advance in their careers?
CMR: That’s a great question. I was single when I was elected to Congress. The best thing that could have happened since I was elected was getting married and becoming a mom. It is a juggling act. I don’t think it’s any different for me than millions of other working moms in the country who are balancing their careers, their responsibilities at home, and their desires to to be a good mom and a good wife and be a part of their family. So from day to day, it varies as to how well I’m doing it, but having the support of my husband, as well as my extended family and staff and supporters, is all a part of making it possible for me. And I really think every family has to figure it out for themselves.
My husband is able to stay at home with the kids, and that’s how we make it work. And I’m grateful that he can do that and be with them during those days when I’m not at home. I also so much appreciate the flexibility that this job offers. This job certainly has me more in the spotlight than other jobs in the country, but we do have flexibility, except for when we’re actually voting on the floor. But usually, I can carve out the time to help take the kids to the doctor or go to the school play, which is very important to me. That’s part of how we make it work.
As far as the policies that we’re promoting that would make a difference in people’s lives, it really is about creating more opportunities and empowering people—no matter their background, no matter where they come from—to be able to fulfill their potential and be empowered to be all that they can be. That is the bottom line of what motivates me, and I have been given tremendous opportunities in this country. I was the first to graduate from college, and that was my parents' dream for me because they wanted me to have a better life.
Getting an education, that’s very important. The policies the Republicans are promoting are the ones that are going to empower people and create a better life for them, and give them opportunities to fulfill their dreams. You see that in our education policies. I’m committed with providing parents and families options to be able to put their kids in the best schools, that are going to meet those needs.
You see us promoting legislation to update our workforce laws, the legislation that Martha Roby has introduced in Congress (I’ve introduced it in other Congresses), the flexibility in the workplace to allow hourly employees to take off instead of being paid time and a-half. I really think we need to update some of those wage and hour laws, which were written in a different time, so that they reflect a changing workplace. When you look at the last 50-60 years and the number of women in the workplace, working moms who have kids under the age of 18, it has dramatically changed the number of families where both parents are working. That’s what we’re about.
And it’s exciting to see women running businesses. They say that two out of three new businesses right now are being started by women. And some of that is being driven by technology, and the options now for people to work from home or start a business over the Internet. It gives them flexibility. And I think that is so important in giving people more options; then they can decide how best to use those options.
GHL: Are there any other topics you see on the horizon where the Republican Party might be putting forward any new legislation that would specifically be able to help women better themselves economically?
CMR: The focus that the Republicans have is creating more jobs, looking at the skills gap. There’s a lot of focus right now on long-term unemployed in this country. And the fact that it has doubled in recent years: The number of people on long-term unemployment is estimated at about 4 million people. And at the same time, we have 4 million jobs going unfilled because employers can’t find people with the skills they’re looking for. So we need to be focusing on education, on training, on making sure that we’re giving people the skills we need.
So that’s where everything’s focused on STEM—on science, technology, engineering, and math. Certainly that’s been a focal point. When I co-chaired the Women’s Caucus, my priority was to be getting more women into this field and pursuing STEM. When you look at the highest-paying jobs in America, they’re in those fields. And those are also the fields that women traditionally have not been entering, so that’s been a focus.