WASHINGTON — For a political party that said it learned the demographic lessons of 2012, House Republicans were acting an awful lot like it was 2011 Tuesday, passing a border security bill and sweeping in a slate of largely white men as committee chairmen.
To be sure, neither the border bill nor the committee chairmanships are major issues in and of themselves. The bill is a largely routine matter that passed on a massive bipartisan basis, and House Republicans have four women in their leadership ranks.
Still, Republican operatives Tuesday night acknowledged for a party still stinging from an election day loss driven in large part by Latino and women voters, the optics of Tuesday’s activities left something lacking.
The decision to pick a full slate of men to lead committees in the 113th Congress — 19 of 19 committees, to be precise — was particularly striking, particularly since at least one woman, Michigan Rep. Candice Miller, was a prime contender for the House Homeland Security Committee chair. But from incoming Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas down the alphabetical list to Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, the powerful jobs went entirely to men.
The gender gap has long been an issue for Republicans, and coming out of this year’s election, leaders have acknowledged that it needs to be addressed. While women were shut out of Tuesday’s chairmanship decisions, House Republicans have included a number of women in their leadership: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will serve as Conference Chair, Rep Lyn Jenkins will serve as Conference Vice Chair, Rep. Virginia Foxx will be the Conference Secretary and Rep.-elect Ann Wagner will serve as the Freshmen representative on the Elected Leadership Council.
Meanwhile, the House Tuesday also passed a border security bill which, while bipartisan in nature, is unlikely to go very far towards healing the rift between Republicans and the Latino community.
The Republican-led House voted on, and passed by 397-4, its first immigration-related bill since the election: A measure to create a task force that would aid the Department of Homeland security and other agencies in better securing the border with Mexico, mostly through information-sharing and coordination.
The bill is named in honor of Jaime Zapata, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was killed by drug cartel gunmen while on duty in Mexico last year.
But the problem for Republicans is one of optics: immigration activists have long bristled at the party’s focus on border issues to the exclusion of other immigration issues. And the GOP’s insistence on fixing the problems associated with the border before addressing immigration reform have angered many Latino voters.
On Friday, however, House Republicans will bring a bill to the floor that falls more into line with their post-election commitment to immigration reform: The STEM Jobs Act, a measure that would enable immigrants with certain advanced degrees to more easily obtain green cards.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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