Camden: McMorris Rodgers joins fight over ‘War on Women’

By Jim Camden, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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Whether there’s a War on Women being waged by politicians around the country is open to debate. There is definitely a War Over the War On Women, and Washington state has a top commander on both sides of the battle lines.

Field marshal for the Democrats is Sen. Patty Murray, who has been using the phrase “War on Women” for months, often in fundraising appeals for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In simple military terms, the committee’s strategy is to elect as many Democrats to the Senate as possible; its tactic, raise as much money as quickly as possible. Its favorite cruise missile is an email appealing for immediate contributions to prevent an impending disaster of apocalyptic dimensions.

In floor speeches, press releases and letters to other elected folks, Murray has consistently criticized various Republican initiatives or statements to restrict access to contraception, block reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or eliminate Planned Parenthood as clear signs the GOP is waging a WOW. She is, in every sense, fully locked and loaded for this fight.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers became the new brigadier general in the field last week, assigned to turn the tide for the Republicans. Trying to switch to offense from defense, she wrote a guest column for a conservative news website, took to the microphone at the House GOP leadership press conference and went on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” to declare there is no Republican WOW. It’s a big Democratic myth, she said, designed to camouflage the fact that the economy is bad, gas prices are high and President Obama’s ratings with women are low. House Republicans, she said, are concentrating on things women really care about: the economy and the budget.

As the highest-ranking woman in House GOP leadership, McMorris Rodgers is the obvious person to be assigned this counterattack. She was armed with polling that shows women think religiously affiliated institutions should be able to opt out of government mandates to provide contraceptives, which runs counter to the Obama administration’s policy.

To wage this WOWOW, Murray would seem to have the better strategic position. Some Republicans keep saying things that give the other side ammunition, and make McMorris Rodgers’ position vulnerable to a flanking maneuver.

For example, Idaho legislators spent time last week considering a bill to require invasive ultrasounds before a woman has an abortion. When the issue of exceptions for rape came up, one senator — guess the gender here — said a doctor should ascertain whether the pregnancy might be the result of normal marital relations rather than rape.

Asked about such comments, McMorris Rodgers shot back that in Washington, Democrats were pushing a social agenda from the other side, passing same-sex marriage legislation and trying to expand coverage for abortion. The contraception debate is really about allowing religious institutions and employers with deep religious convictions to opt out of coverage to which they object, she said.

She’s got a defensible position when stating that most women aren’t single-issue voters. But Republicans seem open to easy counter-attack by mentioning only contraception or abortion on the conscience clause. If it’s really about religious freedom, why not demand that Jehovah’s Witness employers can refuse coverage for blood transfusions? Such exceptions should be allowed under federal law, too, she acknowledged.

The release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s latest budget may shift the battlefield from contraception and abortion to taxes and Medicare. If so, McMorris Rodgers could get a campaign ribbon for a small battle that gave House Republicans some breathing room until the troops get redeployed. Winning that battle, however, is not winning the war. Or even the war over the war.