DANA MILBANK: Republicans kiss votes from women goodbye

Washington Post Writers Group Published:

WASHINGTON -- This was not the way Republican leaders had planned to observe Equal Pay Day.

On the eve of Tuesday's commemoration -- the day symbolizing how far into 2014 women must work to catch up to the wages men earned in 2013 -- a small newspaper in Louisiana, The Ouachita Citizen -- reported that its congressman, Republican Rep. Vance McAllister, had been videotaped making out with a low-paid staffer.

McAllister, called the "Duck Dynasty" congressman because of his defense of the Robertson family's Christian values, issued a statement asking for forgiveness from God, his family, his staff and constituents, and he declared that he still plans to run for re-election. And the woman, a part-timer paid less than $22,000 a year who also received $300 from McAllister to clean out his campaign office? She was terminated as the story broke, the congressman's chief of staff told another Louisiana paper.

It takes chutzpah to observe Equal Pay Day by sacking the low-wage employee you've been snogging.

Thus did Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, find himself fielding a question about McAllister at a news conference that was meant to highlight the party's pro-women efforts. "I'm glad he issued an apology," Cantor said, reserving further judgment on whether the kissing congressman, who has been in office for less than five months, should quit.

Republicans aren't responsible for McAllister any more than Democrats are to blame for Anthony Weiner's weirdness. But for Republicans, who have a big disadvantage among unmarried women, this reinforces a perception. The Democrats' accusation of a GOP "war on women" sticks not because of what Democrats say but because of what Republicans do.

In the Senate, where Democrats were daring Republicans to vote against equal-pay legislation, Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is likely to face a female Democratic challenger in November, told Democrats to drop "all the show votes."

Democrats are indeed making partisan attempts to embarrass Republicans on issues important to women. The coordinated actions being taken, including President Obama's signing of executive orders Tuesday to expose pay disparities by gender among federal contractors, are largely symbolic.

But when one side complains that the other is "playing politics," it's a safe bet that those doing the complaining are losing. Cantor and McConnell don't seem to grasp that the war-on-women accusations aren't made in a vacuum; they gain traction because of proposals Republicans are advancing.

Certainly, it doesn't help the Republican image when Michael Hayden, who was CIA director during the George W. Bush administration, attempts to discredit Dianne Feinstein, the earnest and steady chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as "emotional." Or when McAllister marks Equal Pay Day by firing the staffer he kissed.

But the indignities visited on a few women wouldn't be a problem for Republicans if millions of other women weren't also threatened with injury -- by the clinical language of a budget resolution.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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