By LAUREN HOLTER, Bustle
While a record number of Democratic women were elected to the U.S. House in the midterm election, the GOP’s gender gap actually worsened. The Republican congresswoman from New York who was previously the youngest woman ever elected to Congress has vowed to help more Republican women make it to Capitol Hill — and Rep. Elise Stefanik clapped back at the GOP on Tuesday for criticizing her plans.
“I will continue speaking out abt the crisis level of GOP women in Congress & will try to lead and change that by supporting strong GOP women candidates through my leadership PAC,” she tweeted on Tuesday.
Stefanik stepped down from her position as head of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to work on expanding her leadership PAC, Roll Call reports. In doing so, she plans to get more involved in primary elections in order to support women candidates from the earliest stages of their campaigns. As the NRCC doesn’t publicly help candidates that early, its chairman told Roll Call that Stefanik’s primary plans are a “mistake.”
“If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right,” NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said. The congresswoman quickly responded on Twitter, “NEWSFLASH I wasn’t asking for permission.”
Stefanik’s decision to put more energy into primary races comes after the news that Democrats elected 27 more women to the House in the midterms, while Republicans will have nine fewer women in the House come 2019, according to public affairs site Quorum. Currently, Democratic women hold 64 seats in the House, and Republican women hold 23, per the Center for American Women and Politics.
Photos of each party’s new members, tweeted by Washington Post reporter Erica Werner last month, highlight the huge gap gender gap in the GOP’s incoming freshman class. While the Democrats’ freshman class looks incredibly diverse in terms of gender and race, the GOP’s is overwhelmingly white and male. In fact, there are more Republican freshmen named Mark than Republican women.
Stefanik believes the key to addressing her party’s dearth of congresswomen is embracing the primaries, citing the success of Democratic political action committee EMILY’s List that’s dedicated to electing pro-choice women. As EMILY stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” the organization frequently endorses candidates ahead of general elections.
Before Stefanik was elected as the youngest congresswoman in 2014 at the age of 30, she had to face a serious challenger in the Republican primary for the open congressional seat in New York’s 21st Congressional District. Though she ultimately won, her own experience has helped shape how she views the systemic problems that often keep women from reaching elected office.
“I think it’s really important as a woman who faced a very competitive primary in 2014, we need to support those women earlier and learn the lessons of how effective the other side was in getting women through these competitive primaries,” she told Roll Call.
After all, women can’t win general elections if they don’t make it past the primaries — a fact Stefanik clearly thinks her GOP colleagues need to realize.
Even though the 2018 midterm election was billed as a wave of women because Democratic women won congressional races at record levels, Republicans saw some of their women colleagues voted out of Washington. Now, one Republican congresswoman is speaking out to try and change that. Rep. Elise Stefanik has a plan to elect Republican women, as she told Glamour — and she’s not afraid of who’s listening, least of all GOP leaders.
The problem in the past, she argued in the interview, was not the number of women who were recruited to run as Republicans. Rather, it was a lack of support in the time between “filing to run for office and winning on Election Day.” Stefanik said that’s where the Democrats do much better, with organized groups like EMILY’s List helping candidates fundraise, develop campaign strategies, and more.
“We still have to focus on encouraging women to raise their hand to run for office, but that’s just the first step,” she told Glamour. “A lot of times women haven’t run for office before, and this is their first time running. We saw that on the Democratic side these candidates learn how to be very strong candidates headed into the general election.”
Through a leadership PAC, Stefanik plans to “provide a candidate development program” complete with help for strategy, budget, and messaging for “top key Republican women candidates.” She said it will also help fundraise and work with partner organizations to provide the necessary “early support.”
Stefanik told Glamour minority women will be included in the initiative. “I have a record of recruiting those candidates and I think that is important. It’s important not just to have women, but to have nontraditional candidates,” Stefanik said, giving examples of diverse candidates she recruited in the 2018 election cycle.
As the former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), she was initially in the news in December following a small public spat with another Republican leader who’s now running the NRCC. Rep. Tom Emmer called her moves to support women in congressional primaries “a mistake.”
“It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we’re going to play in the primary,” he told Roll Call.
“NEWSFLASH,” Stefanik wrote on Twitter in response. “I wasn’t asking for permission.” About a month later, Emmer came around and said the NRCC was “going to align” with Stefanik in upcoming races.
Stefanik elaborated on Emmer’s evolution in her interview with Glamour. “He has since realized and listened that was not the right statement to make,” she said. “We have to understand we have a problem and promote more Republican women. And then when they get to Congress, we need to elevate their voices.”
She also spoke about when she realized how dire the gender gap was for Republicans in Congress. “After the election this year, when we first gathered as a Republican conference, I wasn’t planning on saying anything, but the room was so stark,” Stefanik told the magazine. “I stood up and said, ‘Take a look around. We are at a crisis level. We only have 13 women. This is unacceptable.'”
Now she’s working to fix it.
Read this article on bustle.com here