Opinion: Washington’s biggest problem isn’t gridlock or wasted dollars — it’s men

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said that if three female senators who opposed the GOP healthcare bill were men, he might have asked them to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) took to the airwaves last week to call out three female senators for opposing the GOP healthcare bill, stating that if they were men, he might have asked them to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”

In other words, if Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski were dudes, Farenthold would be down to shoot them, which is confusing, because Texas is very good at capital punishment for murder.

But Farenthold won’t, because they’re ladies, and gentlemen from Texas always respect ladies. They hold the door open there and say “ma’am,” as in “I guess I won’t kill you for disagreeing with me today, ma’am.”

Who said chivalry is dead?

Now if I were Capito, I would have a very hard time not tweeting at Farenthold, “Boy, I wish you would.” Capito runs four miles most days. She could have a quick draw. Farenthold also runs well, notably away from a sexual harassment lawsuit settled out of court in 2015.

But the three senators have not stooped to Farenhold’s level (at least publicly), possibly because they are busy governing the country. Their focus and relative probity stands in sharp contrast to President Trump, who never misses the chance to take the time out of his day to trash his critics via Twitter. It also illuminates the swamp in a brand-new way: Washington’s biggest problem isn’t pork or partisanship. It’s men.


Men wrote the Senate healthcare bill that has foundered and may finally die this week. It foundered in part because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the decision to exclude women from the 13-person drafting group. Ostensibly, McConnell excluded women because he correctly assumed they would have would have balked at many of the bill’s provisions, such as defunding Planned Parenthood or slashing Medicaid spending, which women depend on the most.

Had he included them, the Republicans might have negotiated a bill that could have passed already, rather than go through several more iterations of rocky debate.

Instead, men tried to pass a bill that only 13% of Americans supported, contributing to the (true) perception that the majority of Congress does not give a damn about what ordinary citizens think.

Women were the ones who stopped Congress this time, with Capito saying she “did not come to Washington to hurt people.” Later, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) also got on board, seemingly dooming the bill — at least until Trump started strong-arming Senate Republicans to give the legislation another chance.

Too many men also conflate violence with power. Rep. Farenthold may have thought he was flexing when he quipped about settling matters out back. In reality, fighting serves only those too weak to persuade.

True power is standing up for your beliefs, even in the face of massive dissent. That is what Capito, Collins and Murkowski did last week, and what Collins and Murkowski did again Tuesday when they voted against the motion to bring the bill up for debate.

It’s hardly their first rodeo in political courage. In 2013, it was Collins who convened a small bipartisan group of senators made up eight men and six women (including Murkowski) to figure out how to keep the government from shutting down. “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily from women in the Senate,” Sen. John McCain said after the deal was announced.

Their efforts were in line with the trend: According to researchers at the National Bureau for Economic Research, Republican women in particular excel at bipartisanship, possibly because they tend to be left of their party’s center, and therefore more likely to find common ground with Democrats.

Another reason many female legislators may compromise well is because they may be less egotistical. According to a 2001 survey that asked American members of Congress why they ran, men responded that they had “always wanted to.” The No. 1 reason for women? The ability to effect change in society.

Imagine if 100% of politicians cared about that.

Cassady Rosenblum is an intern in The Times’ Opinion section.


Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion or Facebook


John McCain rescued the Senate GOP healthcare bill. Can he rescue the Senate?

Want to be happier? Buy yourself more free time

In the absence of an actual Obamacare replacement plan, the GOP votes to debate ... no bill at all