Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Cottle, Michelle, Newsweek
Byline: Michelle Cottle
A Republican woman takes on her party's men.
Being a Republican woman has had its rocky moments over the past several months. Consider, then, the awesome burden that now falls on Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the newly elected chair of the House GOP conference--the No. 4 position in Republican leadership. Not only is McMorris Rodgers the highest-ranking woman on the Republican side in the House, but her new post means she's in charge of messaging and communication for her party. Translation: she's the person tasked with convincing America that the GOP isn't just a bunch of sexist old white guys.
McMorris Rodgers has represented eastern Washington State in Congress since 2005; before that, she served four terms in the state legislature, where she became the first woman ever to lead the Republican caucus. In her two terms as vice chair of the GOP House conference, she was a furious fundraiser and campaigner, and last year she served as the Romney campaign's congressional liaison. Her leadership victory in November over uber-conservative Rep. Tom Price (despite his backing from VP nominee Paul Ryan) was seen as a sign that the party had recognized the need to de-scarify its image.
"We need to expand our message to today's mindset," she tells me in an interview. "We need to make sure that the face of the party is one that reflects America." Along these lines, McMorris Rodgers is blunt in her criticism of Republican candidates who lost winnable races in 2012 after making offensive comments about rape. "We had some men who said some stupid things," she says. "We need to make sure that men [know when to] keep their mouths shut."
McMorris Rodgers is careful to clarify that she's not pushing for seismic changes. "I don't think it is about having to moderate as Republicans, but we do need to modernize," she says, in a line sure to prompt eye rolling among political watchers. Still, she's approaching her outreach duties with vigor. "We've hired an Hispanic at the conference who is making sure the Republican voice is on the Spanish-speaking networks," she notes. "We have a Spanish Twitter feed now." She's also been hosting meetings between groups of younger Republican voters and younger members of the conference, such as the famously hunky 31-year-old Rep. Aaron Schock. "We're making sure that people know first of all that we have young people serving on the Republican side," says McMorris Rodgers, herself only 43. …