One thing was missing from the speaker madness: a woman

October 27, 2023 7:00 am

Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) thanks U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) (L) after she delivered his nomination speech as the House of Representatives held an election for a new Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on October 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Our long national nightmare is over: the U.S. House has a speaker. But one thing’s for sure — it’s not a woman.

Three weeks of a speaker carousel and never once was a woman considered for the top position, which has only ever been held by one woman: Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

This despite having more women than ever in Congress and in the Republican caucus.

Altogether, 15 men were considered for speaker in either closed-door meetings or in House floor votes. Eventually Republican Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson was officially elected Wednesday.

So where were the women?

More women in Congress than ever before

The Pew Research Center found that women make up more than a quarter (28%) of all members of the 118th Congress – the highest percentage in U.S. history and a considerable increase from where things stood even a decade ago.

Counting both the House of Representatives and the Senate, women account for 153 of 540 voting and nonvoting members of Congress.

A record 128 women are serving in the House, accounting for 29% of the chamber’s total.

And yet, not one nomination.

On one hand, any of the current Congresswomen could have put themselves forward as a candidate and didn’t. Plenty of their male counterparts did just that.

This is probably partly because very few women are in leadership, which brings with it stature, skills and relationships with colleagues needed to become speaker.

The highest-ranking Republican is Rep. Elise Stefanik, of New York, who chairs the Republican Conference.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox earlier this week that he wished the U.S. House had a woman candidate like Stefanik or Texas Republican Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne.

“Given the level of rowdiness and the level of juvenile behavior it’s conceivable that a female speaker would be more effective in actually getting them all to get together and stick together,” he said.

But Stefanik was never considered an option. Instead, she gave the nominating speech for Johnson on Wednesday.

There are only three female U.S. House Committee Chairs, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. One of those – North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx — told a reporter to shut up repeatedly when she asked Johnson a question during a press conference.

Combined, only 18 women have leadership in the U.S. House in both parties.

Women are just as capable as men in leading and I hope it doesn’t take years to see a female Republican in this significant leadership role. Democrats seem to be more open and willing to elevate women.

Democrat Pelosi was the first woman to wield the speaker’s gavel. No Republican woman has ever advanced beyond the role of conference chair — the position currently held by Stefanik and filled by former Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington before her, according to NBC News.

That same report said women within the caucus know the position is a chopping block.

“We need to have, maybe, a woman to get us out of this mess,” Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana told NBC News. “The men screw it up so much.”


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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.