Perhaps it was a way of needling Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House, but Republican John Boehner, who is not even speaker yet, plans to do what Democrats could not do in the four years they controlled the House: He will order construction of a women’s restroom just off the House floor.
The triumphant Republicans omitted the fact, as they are increasingly wont to do, that their own party failed to bring gender equity to the congressional toilets in the 12 years they controlled the House before Pelosi.
In truth, Congress has a dismal record in this regard. The first female House member — a Republican pacifist, by the way — was elected 93 years ago. Only now are lawmakers getting around to rectifying an easily foreseeable need. With 71 female House members in the next Congress, the need is not only foreseeable, but unavoidable.
Currently, female lawmakers who need to excuse themselves must leave the House chamber and traverse the tourist-thronged Statuary Hall to the Lindy Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room — a walk of 50 yards, according to one chronicler.
The fact that Boggs, a popular and skilled legislator from Louisiana, could not get a more convenient ladies’ room built during her 18 years in Congress is perhaps testament to the problem’s obduracy. The Senate, the more tradition-bound of the two institutions, installed a ladies’ room adjacent to the floor in 1993.
Getting the women’s loo built will be something of a test of Boehner’s administrative skills. The last major Capitol construction project, the Visitor Center, was four years late and 57 percent over budget, but the House had the Senate helping it.
Female lawmakers will be accommodated by appropriating the House parliamentarian’s office, conveniently located close to the floor in case the chair needs a quick ruling. But as one seasoned analyst noted, Boehner is probably intent on making up his own rules.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service.