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‘We are the table’: Meet the history-making women controlling the most powerful levers of government


CNN | By: Melanie Zanona


(From L to R) Sens. Collins, Murray and Reps. DeLauro and Granger

Click HERE to watch the CNN segment


(CNN) — When Susan Collins first arrived in the Senate in 1997, a male colleague approached her about committee assignments and assumed that the Maine Republican would want to serve on education and child care panels.


“I said, ‘Yes, those are really important,’” Collins recalled. Then she told her colleague: “And I want to be on the Armed Services Committee.”


It was seen as a bold ask at a time when there were only a handful of women serving in Congress, and they didn’t even have their own bathroom yet, let alone coveted committee seats or powerful gavels. But more than 25 years later, Collins – along with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas and Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut – will hold the top spots on the Senate and House Appropriations committees, an influential crew on Capitol Hill commonly known as the “Four Corners.”



In an exclusive joint TV interview, the quartet sat down with CNN to candidly discuss how they plan to approach their work, the pressure to prove women can do the job just as effectively – if not better – than their male counterparts, and why they think it’s taken so long to crack the “boy’s club” in Washington.



Granger, 80, made history in 2019 with then-Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, when they both helmed the House Appropriations Committee. It was the first time a pair of women had led a congressional panel since 1977, when two female lawmakers oversaw the House Select Committee on the Beauty Shop, which supervised operations at the beauty salon in a House office building.



“We wanted to create an opening for a male to be head of the Beauty Shop,” Collins, 70, quipped about women climbing the ranks.



The group feels a sense of responsibility to show that negotiations can be successful, with collegiality, camaraderie and compromise – and not the bluster and brinkmanship that has defined past funding fights. DeLauro and Granger already have two years of experience working together atop the House spending panel.


With Republicans taking control of the House earlier this month, Granger is now chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee and DeLauro the ranking Democrat. Murray will become chairwoman of Senate Appropriations Committee with Collins as the ranking Republican.


“There’s maybe not this sense that you have to outdo or outshine or so forth. We know what has to get done,” DeLauro said. “And we want to make sure that we’re giving each other the strength to do it.”


“We can be tough, and we can be nice,” Murray added.


Collins concurred: “We can be both at the same time.”


Decades working in government, they say, has illuminated some differences between how male and female legislators tend to operate.



Those differences are especially apparent when it comes to how female lawmakers feel more pressure to do their homework.


“Every woman legislator that I know takes a thick briefing book home every single night,” Collins said. “And I remember (former Tennessee Republican) Sen. Fred Thompson … once saying to one of our male colleagues: ‘Susan has a secret. She prepares.’



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Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has her portrait made on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC