Democrats made history last week by elevating Rep. Nancy Pelosi to the post of House minority leader, the first time either political party chose a woman for this position. Yet, in all the hoopla about Mrs. Pelosi, Republicans made some history of their own – electing Rep. Deborah Pryce chairman of the Republican Conference.
Mrs. Pryce becomes the highest-ranking woman in a majority party leadership position in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Given Mrs. Pelosi’s outspokenly liberal track record, the Democrats’ choice is a provocative political gambit (some might call it a “risky scheme,” but that line’s been taken). Mrs. Pryce seems particularly well-suited for her rendezvous with history.
Mrs. Pryce assumes control of the Republican Conference, the House GOP’s communications arm, at a unique moment for her party. With President Bush’s popularity at record levels, and the White House growing increasingly comfortable capitalizing on the power of the bully pulpit, “communicating” a House Republican message is a tricky assignment. Supporting the president, without getting drowned out or consistently pre-empted by the White House’s dominant voice, is particularly daunting.
Yet, Mrs. Pryce embodies political and personality assets that complement many of Mr. Bush’s key message points, which will help her and the entire GOP Conference navigate challenging communications shoals.
First, like Mr. Bush, Mrs. Pryce is a uniter rather than a divider. She garnered support from a broad range of colleagues in her recent leadership race, including such conservatives as Duke Cunningham and Roger Wicker, as well as moderate Republicans Nancy Johnson and Dave Hobson.
She was a close ally and strong supporter of former Speaker Newt Gingrich on a variety of issues during the early years of the new Republican majority in the House in 1995, serving as one of his lieutenants in passing the Contract with America.
Impressed with Mrs. Pryce’s work ethic and effectiveness, then-Speaker Gingrich asked her to help recruit more women candidates to run for the House. Mrs. Pryce seized the opportunity and used it to found an organization called VIEWPAC (Value in Electing Women Political Action Committee), which helped provide significant early campaign resources to the first campaigns of some of the House’s current rising stars, among them Reps. Anne Northup, Shelly Moore Capito, Melissa Hart and Heather Wilson.
Like Mr. Bush, Mrs. Pryce practices compassionate conservatism in word and deed. An outspoken supporter of the president’s priorities in faith-based initiatives, tax relief and education, Mrs. Pryce was also the lead sponsor in the House for Mr. Bush’s welfare reform legislation. She’s also a tireless advocate for research and policies that promote adoption – two issues that fate has randomly intertwined in her life.
Three years ago, Mrs. Pryce experienced every parent’s nightmare when her 9-year-old daughter, Caroline, died of a rare form of bone . While the loss of her child left a void that can never be filled, she bounced back and threw herself into a variety of projects on and off the Hill. “She responded to her child’s illness in a single-minded way – as a loving mother – and many thought it ripped so much out of her she might quit Congress,” said Becky Anderson, partner at the law firm of Williams & Jensen, and one of Mrs. Pryce’s closest friends in Washington. “But her grief turned into a steely resolve,” Miss Anderson added. “She refused to wallow in personal sorrow and instead celebrated Caroline’s life with a newfound motivation in her own.”
Mrs. Pryce demonstrated her commitment to children again earlier this year when she adopted a daughter, Mia, who keeps her clearly focused – although sometimes sleepless – and cognizant again of the joys and responsibilities of the things in life that matter most. Mrs. Pryce represents an important demographic group critical to the GOP’s hopes to expand its majority over the next decade – suburban women. She relates to America’s working moms at many levels. But viewing her, or the role she plays, as somehow filling the “women’s slot” in the GOP leadership would be a huge mistake.
Tempered by life’s crucible, as well as her experience in the House GOP’s successes and failures over the last decade, Mrs. Pryce brings a battle-tested perspective to politics. By electing her to this critical post, the House GOP rank-in-file sends a strong message. Yes, she is a voice at the leadership table, and a face on television. And not just for a certain demographic group, but for all Americans who love their families, struggle with competing demands, and want to make a difference in the world.