When Susan Collins first arrived in the Senate in 1997, a male colleague approached her about committee assignments and figured the Maine Republican wanted to serve on the Education and Child Care Committee.
“I said, ‘Yeah, those are really important,'” Collins recalled. Then she told her colleagues: “I want to join the military council.”
It was seen as an audacious request at a time when only a handful of women served in Congress, and they didn’t even have their own bathrooms, let alone coveted committee seats or powerful gavels. But 25 years later, Collins, along with Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), will be Dominating the Senate and House appropriations committees, influential groups on Capitol Hill are often referred to as the “Four Corners.”
This, combined with Shalanda Young, who leads the Office of Management and Budget, means that for the first time in history, a woman will run the purse strings in Washington. Congress’ powerful spending committees oversee the roughly $1.7 trillion annual federal budget and are responsible for policies that affect nearly every corner of American life.
“People would say, ‘We have to give you a seat.’ Hell, we’re the table,” DeLauro said. “We have four people here – five and Shalanda Young – who actually control the most powerful lever in government.”
With deadlines looming later this year to fund the government and raise the state’s borrowing limit, these four women will bring the country back from the brink of fiscal disaster – not an easy task for a divided and polarized government matter, and holds slim majorities in both chambers.
“Every day there are obstacles, and we all recognize that. Every day there are people who try to stop us from being successful,” Murray said. “I have no doubt that this will be one of the hardest things I’ve done since I’ve been here. I’m pleased that I have great partners on both sides of the Capitol and on both sides of the caucus.”
In an exclusive syndicated TV interview, the quartet sat down with CNN to discuss candidly about how they plan to approach their jobs, the pressure to prove that women can do it more effectively than their male counterparts, and why they think it’s taken so long. Break into Washington’s “boys’ club.”
“This is a very special time for us to work together,” said Granger, the first Republican woman to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives and the first female mayor of Fort Worth. “We’ve all worked together on different things. But this is different. I think it’s really important for young women to see us do that.”
Women are already following in their footsteps. A young female staff member of Granger’s later also became the mayor of Fort Worth. Before taking over OMB, Young — the first black woman to lead the agency — was a top aide on the House Appropriations Committee, involved in key funding negotiations and respected by members of both parties.
Granger, 80, made history in 2019 with then-Rep. Nita Lowey, Democrat of New York, when she chaired the House Appropriations Committee. It’s the first time two women have led a congressional panel since 1977, when two female lawmakers oversaw the House Select Committee on Beauty Salons, which oversees the operation of the House Office Building Beauty Salon.
“No one ever thought that women could handle foreign policy, budget, finance, anything,” said DeLauro, 79. “This is the weak side of the government.”
All four corners were elected in the 1990s, when there were still very few women in Congress. Murray, 72, recalls her Senate class being dubbed “the year of the woman” — after she was elected in 1992, there were only six female senators. She said men were intimidated by her when she was in the room.
Now the tables have turned, with record numbers of women holding public office and holding key positions.
Murray recently became the first woman to serve as president pro tempore of the Senate, a senior Senate job that makes her the third person to be president.
Collins, 70, quipped: “We wanted to create an opportunity for men to be in charge of beauty shops.”
DeLauro, known for his colorful fashion choices and purple-streaked hair, then offered a different idea to a male-led committee: “Barbershop!”
With Nancy Pelosi stepping down as the top Democratic House leader, the “Big Four” congressional leaders are now all men.
Newly installed Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has demanded spending cuts in exchange for raising the national debt ceiling, raising the risk of a default and further complicating the work of the four nations. corner.
Asked if they could guarantee that the government would not shut down during their term, Murray responded cautiously, possibly realizing that some things were out of their control: “None of us want chaos. We all want chaos.” Our families, our communities, our businesses and the people we represent know they can go to work and take care of their families and know that we are here to work and do what needs to be done.”
The group has a sense of responsibility to show that negotiations can succeed through cooperation, camaraderie and compromise, not the bravado and brinkmanship that have characterized past battles for funding. DeLauro and Granger have been working together on the House spending panel for two years.
With Republicans taking control of the House earlier this month, Granger is now chairman of the Appropriations Committee and DeLauro is the top-ranking Democrat. Murray will be chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Collins is the top Republican.
“There’s probably not that sense that you have to go above or beyond and so forth. We knew what had to be done,” DeLauro said. “We want to make sure we give each other the strength to do this.”
“We can be tough and we can be nice,” Murray added.
Collins agrees: “We can be both at the same time.”
Decades of working in government have illuminated some of the differences in how male and female lawmakers operate, they said.
“Women, they’re great listeners. You learn a lot by listening instead of just talking,” Granger said. “We do share information about what we’re doing, which is very helpful.”
These differences are particularly stark when it comes to how female lawmakers feel more pressure to do their homework.
“Every congresswoman I know comes home with a thick brief every night,” Collins said. “I remember (former Tennessee Republican) Sen. Fred Thompson … once saying to one of our male colleagues: ‘Susan has a secret. She’s ready.’
Other differences are more straightforward. Murray said her plush office space in the Capitol — one of the perks of her senior role — was once occupied by cigar-smoking men.
She’s glad it’s not anymore.