Apr 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The women of the Senate meet — for dinner

Illustration of a roast chicken on a platter with the Capitol dome as the lid.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Amid bitter partisanship in the capital, rampant inflation across the country and a war raging in Ukraine, nearly two dozen women senators broke bread Tuesday night — and, Axios has learned, politics was decidedly off the menu.

Why it matters: The bipartisan chicken dinner in the Capitol — organized by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — was a throwback to the kind of camaraderie whose loss is often lamented in modern-day politics.

What they’re saying: "We sat around a big rectangular table with little vases of flowers that went to each woman. It was bipartisan. Politics was not discussed. It was a very pleasant evening," Feinstein told Axios.

  • During the two-hour get-together, the group did take stock of the fact that, for the first time, four women will be chairs and ranking members of the powerful Appropriations committees in both chambers — the so-called "four corners."
  • In the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Collins will be the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, following the retirements of Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
  • In the House, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Kay Granger (R-Texas) will continue to be the top Democrat and Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Between the lines: "I've been here a while, and it's just nice to relax and have conversations with friends," said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

  • "It was lovely," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told Axios. "We enjoy each other's company, and then we get to know each other as women first, not really as senators, and it's one of the most enjoyable things we do in the Senate."
  • The dinner came the same week Congress mourned the death of former Sen. Orrin Hatch, the starch-collared Utah Republican famed for playing the piano as his boisterous friend, the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, belted out the tunes.
  • The loss of that friendship is often cited alongside the relationship between President Reagan and House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O’Neill as examples of a bygone, bipartisan era in Washington.

Go deeper: "It's the biggest group of women I've ever had dinner with since I've been here," Feinstein told Axios.

  • ”When I came [to Washington], there were two women in the Senate. And then it was a big deal when we got up to nine — and so now it's much more and that's good."
  • "We're very lucky to have the women that we do in the Senate."
  • Feinstein said she hopes to host the dinner every six months.
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