Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., spoke on the importance of women's involvement in foreign policy and politics. Photo by Julia Mueller/Medill News Service
WASHINGTON -- Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., on Wednesday called for women to be more involved in politics and foreign policy.
The lawmakers discussed bipartisan foreign policy interests as part of the annual Celebrating Women Leaders benefit luncheon hosted by the Women's Foreign Policy Group.
"A little secret inside Washington, D.C., is that Republican and Democrat -- they're actually friends," said Kristi Rogers, co-chairwoman of the WFPG board, introducing the senators. "In this hyper-partisan political rancor, Sen. Fischer and Sen. Shaheen actually work together."
The two lawmakers talked over key international issues and threats to U.S. security -- but also discussed their across-the-aisle relationship.
"Congress is a reflection of our country," said Fischer, and the divided nation is "becoming worse."
Fischer said the news coverage of Congress can make it sound like lawmakers are "always fighting," but the senators generally live up to their place in the deliberative body, prioritizing conversation.
"We are friends. We are civil to each other," Fischer said. "We realize that we come from different places and we have different views. We represent different constituencies."
The fireside chat between Shaheen and Fischer was moderated by Gloria Story Dittus, chairwoman of Story Partners. The first in-person Celebrating Women Leaders event in two years, the speakers repeatedly drew attention to ongoing issues and conflict happening even as the WFPG audience gathered in the ballroom of a Ritz-Carlton.
"We've got Russia on a rampage, threatening to hostile invasion of Ukraine. We have Iran thumbing its nose at the world's plea to stop enriching uranium. And we have a communist party in China threatening how we actually conduct our daily trade," Rogers said, and the pandemic exacerbates existing issues.
Fischer called Russia and China "two existential threats to our homeland," and Shaheen urged for the protection of women and children in Afghanistan, even if that means working with the Taliban "in some capacity."
But in addressing all of these issues, the senators said, it's essential that women's voices are heard and included in solutions.
"We need to ensure that our foreign policy has a gender lens in it," Shaheen said. "And it's not just because women make up, you know, 50 -- more than 50% of the population. It's because we know that when women are involved in foreign policy, the outcomes are different. And they're better."
The only female senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Shaheen explained that women are integral in the foreign policy process not only because of their unique perspective, but also because of their potential to effectively implement progress.
"When we give a woman help -- a job, an education -- she turns around and translates most of that help to her family, to her community and to her country," Shaheen said.
The senators both encouraged women to run for office at all levels of government, domestically and abroad.
"I for one feel disappointed that we have not yet had a woman president in the United States," Shaheen said.
She lamented the loss of former German Chancellor Angela Markel's presence in the political landscape.
But although the senators emphasized the importance of women's inclusion, they also cautioned against defining work and power in terms of gender.
"We have to be able to -- to speak, I believe, not just as women but as senators. Please don't look at us and go, 'Oh, that's a woman senator,'" Fischer said. "Please look at us and say, 'There's two senators here today.'"
Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Thursday. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo