House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to muster a surprised reaction on Tuesday as she listened to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's quote about the government helping women "control their libidos."
But after serving in Congress for nearly three decades, Pelosi says she is so used to hearing her colleagues say things like that that she barely notices anymore. "This is a statement so from the past that I'm almost embarrassed for him, but understand it doesn't stand out as anything unusual from what we hear our members say here," she said in an interview before the State of the Union on HuffPost Live. "You don't have a long enough show for me to go into what you hear around here from the members of Congress."
Pelosi said her colleagues regularly talk disrespectfully about large categories of people.
"Whether it's about women and their judgment, whether it's about immigrants and their opportunities, about poor people or people who are out of work, there's a real disdain," she said.
That disdain for women, Pelosi said, extends far beyond rhetoric. As she and some of her Democratic colleagues push a comprehensive economic agenda for women, which includes equal pay legislation, a bill to raise the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick and family leave and affordable childcare for working mothers, Republican leadership has ignored those proposals and instead brought a bundle of abortion restrictions to the floor for a vote.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which the House passed on Tuesday, bans abortion coverage in the state health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. Until now, most private health insurance plans have covered abortion without controversy.
"It's really an insult to women and their judgment about the size and timing of their families, and it's an opportunity cost," the California congresswoman said. "This bill is going nowhere, and instead we should be putting on the floor legislation to extend unemployment benefits."
Pelosi said today's Republican Party is not what it used to be.
"I say to the Republicans, take back your party," she said. "This isn't who you are, who you have been, what you have done for America, the 'Grand Ol' Party.' This is an ideological, over the cliff, extreme element that has captured control of the Republican Party in the House and dominates policy making."
The Republican National Committee held its winter meeting last week, where party leaders and candidates were encouraged to push back against the Democrats' claim that the GOP is waging a "war on women." Republican politicians made a string of comments after the meeting that only further inflamed accusations that they do not understand the issues women face.
Huckabee, also a former Republican presidential candidate, accused Democrats of telling women "they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government." Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) insisted the GOP has been "tremendous in supporting the equality of women in the workplace and a whole host of other places," and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) dismissed the fact that women are routinely paid less than men for the same work.
"This whole sort of war on women thing, I’m scratching my head, because if there was a war on women, I think they won," Paul said in an appearance on CNN's "State Of The Union." "In fact, I worry about our young men sometimes, because I think the women really are outcompeting men in our world."
On the day before the five-year anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women legally challenge pay discrimination in the workplace, Pelosi said she is frustrated that Republicans dismiss women's economic struggles and the gender pay gap. "To hear them say that means nothing to me, the two that you quoted," Pelosi said, referring to Paul and Santorum. "In the polls, [people] said 55 percent thought the economy worked for men, 33 percent thought the economy worked for women. So they can say whatever they want. The fact is over 60 percent of the people who make the minimum wage are women."
A bill to raise the minimum wage, Pelosi said, might be gaining enough political momentum and public support to make it viable in the Republican-controlled House -- but leadership is not likely to bring bills to the floor any time soon that would address equal pay for women or paid family and medical leave.
Republicans did choose a woman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), to deliver the GOP's State of the Union rebuttal Tuesday night. But Pelosi said that symbolic action means little to the women in America.
"I even said it when I became speaker -- it's nice that I'm speaker, but it's not nice enough [if] women are still not paid according to their value," she said. "What's important is what's happening to women in America, and to say, 'Oh, isn't this nice? That makes things okay with you' -- no. It's about policy that turns into legislation that turns into improving the quality of life for the American people."