WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday defended Senate Republicans’ work on a new health care bill after facing criticism for appointing a working group made entirely of white men to draft the legislation.
Democrats pounced after news of the 13-member group broke over the weekend, and as they continued their attacks Tuesday. Even White House spokesman Sean Spicer weighed in, saying “the more voices” in the group the better.
McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, disputed the idea that only the working group would draft the new health care bill. He said legislation would be shaped by all 52 Republicans and the three Senate committees overseeing finance, health and the budget.
“The working group that counts is all 52 of us and we are having extensive meetings like just a few minutes ago every day. Nobody is being excluded based on gender,” he said after the weekly party caucus lunches. “Everybody is at the table. Everybody.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), a more moderate Republican, acknowledged she and the other four female Senate Republicans had been left off the committee.
“That’s really up to the leadership,” Collins told the Associated Press. “It seems to me they’ve already made their decision. The panel has apparently been meeting for some time, and I’m not a member of it.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she was concerned about the all-male group’s approach to treat health care issues that primarily affect women, such as maternity care.
“We know it makes a difference when women are in the room. And we know it makes a difference when women aren’t in the room, on what is brought up, how it’s seen and how it’s put together,” Murray said.
“And without women in that working group,” she said, “I can tell you right now it is not going to address issues that women look at when they do health care.”
At his daily news briefing, Spicer said he was not aware of whether the White House had asked Senate leaders to add women to the working group. He said it is not the call of the White House to determine who sits on Senate panels.
But Spicer added, “I think the more voices that we can put on a panel to help get this done, the better.”