Nancy Pelosi isn’t the only woman in House leadership anymore. Meet incoming Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark
For years, the Democratic caucus has been led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - the lonely woman at the helm of Congress.
For the next term, Pelosi will be assisted by Rep. Katherine Clark, the Massachusetts Congresswoman. The Democrats elected Clark as deputy spokesman in a race against Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline last week.
While the role does not determine who is next in line, Clark's rise to the number four position in the House over a two-year period that could be Pelosi's bottom number one is still remarkable. In 2018, the spokeswoman promised some members of her party that she would only serve four more years.
Clark is only the second woman to ever serve in the leadership of the house and will soon be the second tallest woman in Congress. She succeeds Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who was elected to the Senate this month. (His departure leaves the group of four house managers with one non-white member, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.) Clark spoke to Fortune about achieving gender equality in house management and her goals for the caucus during that term. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Fortune: What do you think it means that leadership is now on gender equality?
Rep. Katherine Clark: This is an achievement for women. For too long women have been left out and left behind. And it makes a difference. When we have a seat at the leadership table, the priorities mix. This is an important time as we see that because of the economic consequences of this pandemic, women are facing such challenges that another member of top leadership is standing in for them.
When women have a seat at the table, we focus on caring for children and older parents, as well as reproductive and maternal health, economic issues such as paid family leave and childcare and gender pay gaps. These are the issues that will be critically important as we look at how to get our country back on track, not only because of this pandemic and the economic devastation women are facing, but also because of the obvious misogyny of Trump -Government.
We represent 51% of our population. It has been a long time since we gave up the idea that "one woman is enough". I've always been inspired by a few pioneering women - including Nancy Pelosi.
What do you think the House leadership should do to prepare for a possible spokesperson transition in two years' time?
We need to focus on governing and let the American people know that we are seeing it. And we work for you.
These will be enormous shoes that will have to be filled when Speaker Pelosi decides to leave office. It will take a team of us to do what she did - to bring this legislative acumen, her fundraising star power, her ability to understand our caucus and move us forward. For now, I'm grateful that she will be the speaker for the next session and help us bring the focus back from the rich and the well-connected, and back to the families - the single mothers trying for their to provide children with schools closed to female veterans facing food insecurity and all of our families dealing with homelessness and children who go to bed hungry. That will be the focus of my work as a speaker.
What are your legislative priorities as a speaker this term?
Childcare is my top priority. I remember realizing that all of my salary was being used to care for my three children - and the impact the pandemic had on an already fragile industry was devastating. Without childcare, we will not see economic recovery. This type of problem appeals not only to parents of young children and child carers, who are predominantly women and women of color, but also to the business community. This is the work I will focus on to help our members succeed.
In July, we passed a $ 50 billion rescue package in house for the childcare industry. We have to stabilize that. If we continue to lose childcare places and close childcare centers, we will not see economic recovery. We know that lost productivity due to inadequate childcare costs billions a year. And we saw that 800,000 women left the workforce in September - mainly because childcare wasn't available. We need to make sure that we are stabilizing this industry, that we are investing in vendors so that they can do this while they are doing this essential work. We need to ensure that childcare remains affordable for low and middle income families. We need to understand the relationship that childcare has with the fundamentals of our economy.
How are these priorities affected by the potential of a Republican-controlled Senate?
It will be up to the Senate, if they keep Republican control, to make a decision: that they are here to serve the American public and to work with us. Not because these issues are Democratic or Republican, but because they are issues to the American people. So far, we have not seen from Mitch McConnell in the Senate that they are ready to put their focus on the American people. But that's where we'll be. And I definitely hope that if we move ahead and Joe Biden takes office in January, Senate Republicans will abandon their blind loyalty to President Donald Trump and return to their responsibility to rule for all Americans and address this pandemic.
What should the House of Representatives leadership do to eradicate some of the differences between progressive and moderate Democrats that have become clearer in the weeks after the election?
I am a proud progressive. The reality is we need a majority to get guidelines across the finish line. I know this caucus is extremely diverse and truly unparalleled in its talent. It will be my job to capitalize on this diversity, include it on our agenda, and ensure that we use all of our caucus talents to move forward and be that engine of change. To make sure we commit to government by including those who feel forgotten, oppressed and overlooked. We will use our variety of life experiences to inform our guidelines.
In addition to the immediate requirements of fighting the pandemic and economic aid, are there any laws or problems that you would particularly like to come back to under a democratic government?
I want to bring back our entire agenda that we adopted. For me, childcare, making sure we work on harassment in the workplace, paying justice, reducing gun violence and addressing climate change are our top priorities. If you look at the work that the House Democrats approved in the last session, then there is the blueprint for our country's success.
More on the Most Powerful Women in Fortune Economy:
List of the most powerful women of 2020
The women who join the Biden-Harris administration
If Kamala Harris takes on the role of Vice President, there will be no black women in the Senate
Nancy Pelosi is no longer the only woman in the house management. Meet the incoming announcer, Katherine Clark
Next, Dick's Sporting Goods CEO will be the Fortune 500's 41st CEO
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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