In a rare moment of unity during a State of the Union speech which saw a polarized chamber, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urged her side to give a standing ovation when President Donald Trump mentioned the record number of women in the 116th Congress.
The president made the acknowledgment as he talked about the gains made by women in the current economy.
“As we work to defend our people’s safety, we must also ensure our economic resurgence continues at a rapid pace,” Trump said. “No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year.”
The remark brought cheering from the women on the Democrat side dressed in white to show solidarity with the roots of the suffragette movement. This brought a quip from the president: “You were not supposed to do that,” he said, before adding. “Thank you very much. Thank you very much.”
“All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” he continued, bringing another round of cheering. As it died down, the president said, “Don’t sit yet. You are going to like this.”
“And exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before,” Trump said.
The move brought more cheering from the other side of the aisle and even had Speaker Pelosi on her feet, exhorting her side to stand and applaud.
“Don’t sit yet, you’re gonna like this”: Women in Congress rise and cheer after President Trump points out that there are more of them now than ever before in U.S. history #SOTU https://t.co/EXZ8FU2DXV pic.twitter.com/3ttYwi7lI0
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 6, 2019
There are currently 125 women in the U.S. Congress, with 102 in the House and 23 in the Senate. That’s the most in the body’s history — representing 23.4 percent of the body as a whole.
While most of the attention was on new Democratic women in the House and Senate — notably Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar of New York and Minnesota, respectively; and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — there were several notable additions on the Republican side, too.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, for instance, won a convincing victory over former Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, despite the fact that Bredesen received a high-profile endorsement from pop star Taylor Swift.
Mississippi’s Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who had been appointed to fill the rest of Thad Cochran’s term after he resigned in April of 2018 due to health concerns, became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress.
As for the white outfits among Democrat women in the chamber on Tuesday, it was a part of a move by the House Democratic Women’s Working Group to commemorate their “hard-earned rights” by wearing the color of the suffragette movement.
“A century ago, U.S. suffragists carefully chose the colors of their flag. Purple represented loyalty and was a nod to England’s suffragettes. White symbolized purity and contrasted with the flag’s darker colors,” The Washington Post’s Marisa Iati noted. “Gold paid homage to the sunflowers in Kansas, where Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had campaigned for the right to vote.”
“The suffragists’ outfits of purple and gold sashes over white dresses were intended to look appealing in newspaper photographs, (author Rebecca) Boggs Roberts said. The white was also intended to look non-threatening so people would have a harder time criticizing the women’s appearance as aggressive or masculine.”
The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which extended the right to vote to women, passed Congress 100 years ago this June 4. It would take another year to be ratified by the states, however.
As for other nods to women in the speech, the president would go on to announce “the first ever government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.”
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