'Sweet 16' Women Senators Talk Defense, Obama

For the first time ever, the United States Senate boasts 16 women -- half the number of women who have served in the Senate during the country's more than 200-year history.

In an unprecedented interview, ABC's Diane Sawyer sat down with all of them to talk about everything from the 2008 elections to the future of women in the government.

One of the first issues discussed was another groundbreaking member of the Senate -- Sen. Barack Obama, the black lawmaker from Illinois who came one step closer to officially running for president as a Democrat in 2008 by announcing Tuesday that he would form an exploratory committee to consider a White House bid.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., believes Obama may be up to the task.

"Well, he's a talented individual. We're so glad to have him in our caucus. And he's a voice, I think, that is bringing a lot of fresh ideas," she said. "And I'm so glad because when we have a woman who might be in the White House who could [be] bringing female leadership to a whole new level. That's exciting."

"And Barack is carrying a torch as well, for breaking a glass ceiling," Cantwell added. "It's a long way until the first primary, but I think we're very proud. And we're certainly very proud of what Sen. Clinton has done and achieved in the United States Senate."

More Women Means Less War?

Sawyer then asked the senators whether they thought there would be less war if more women were in leadership positions in government.

"How sure are you that there would be less war?" she asked.

"I think that women are agents of change. And while we're only 16 percent of the United States Senate, we are trying to make change," Cantwell said. "So it doesn't mean that you're going to predict the outcome, but it does mean you will hear about collaboration, you will hear about cooperation and you will hear about a format that I think brings people together."

With women in charge, there would be more collaboration, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told Sawyer.

"Well, I'm not certain that we would have less wars, but I am certain there would be more collaboration. So while we can't prevent war, we can maybe extend peace longer. Maybe we can bring it more readily," Landrieu said. "We don't ever claim that we could empower -- end war. But I do think women bring a different perspective on just how much is enough when it comes to bloodshed and expenditure of funds for weapons."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said that women around the world are looking to American women for help and resources.

"You know, Diane, I just got back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and in both places, in addition to meeting with our military leaders and the governmental officials from both countries," she said. "I met with groups of women, and -- women who are now in positions of responsibility in both governments. [They] just begged for help from American women, particularly those of us in government, to give them some resources and support."

Clinton said that the sense of collaboration that women encourage may cause more positive results diplomatically.

"I don't think that you can foresee or foreordain any particular outcomes, but I do think what we're all saying is that there is, at least in our experience, more of an openness to process, to bring people together to the table," she said. "That's collaboration and collegiality. And that in and of itself can cause positive results, not that, you know, it's going to end all wars or something as hopeful and aspirational as that. So I do think there are some differences we could build on."

Male vs. Female Approach to Power

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., believes that the way men and women think about power makes a difference as well.

"I think women look at power differently, too. I think men have a very -- I was going to say sort of upscale view of power, that it's got to really emanate from the top," she said. "And most women have gotten wherever we've gotten because of hard work, doing your apprenticeship, earning your spurs, working your way up. It's a very different thing. So you intend to be much more inclusive."

Despite that, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that a woman president would do whatever she needed to do to defend the country, even if that meant going to war.

"But I don't want to leave the impression that a woman president wouldn't do what is necessary to defend this country," Collins said. "If Elizabeth Dole had been successful and had been president, I'm sure that she would have reacted very strongly and effectively to the attacks on our country on 9/11."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., reiterated that the group of 16 women senators is tough.

"I want to point out this is a tough, tough group of women. Don't (cross) these women," she said. "Because if you want to mess with America, if you want to do something that harms our country, I think that at the same time, we talk about how we are good at finding common ground and we care very much about collegiality."

McCaskill said she doesn't want anyone to think that a female president would be afraid to defend the United States, even if that meant going to war.

" I don't want this interview to end with anyone being mistaken that whether it's Hillary Clinton or any of these women," she said. "If the time comes and any of us have to make a tough decision that has to do with war or defending our country, every woman in this room is ready to do that. Because believe me, if she got here, she's tough."

A Meeting of the Minds

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has started holding all-women meetings for the female senators.

"Well, we're so glad to be on 'Good Morning America' with another woman pioneer. This is 'Shake-Up America' while we're on 'Good Morning America,'" she said. "I'm so proud of the fact that there's 16 women now in the United States Senate."

A recent Newsweek poll showed that 35 percent of American people do not think America is ready for a woman president.

"It doesn't mean they are saying they wouldn't vote, but they just don't think America is ready," Sawyer said.

Feinstein believes the general public will become more open to having a female president as more women become politicians.

"I think things will change rapidly as more women become mayors -- as they become governors, as they represent us in the state legislatures," she said. "As they do well, suddenly people look and say, 'Aha!''"

Freshman Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that current congresswomen paved the way for her political successes.

"When Claire [McCaskill] and I ran both times, it was a lot easier for people to imagine us in the U.S. Senate because of the women sitting here today," she said.

A Woman in 2008?

Still, Sawyer pressed the senators.

"Let me ask you this. What has taken America so long? We've got, what, six, seven female presidents, six prime ministers that I know about, in the world," she said.

"We still have a long way to go," Dole said.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., agreed.

"And my mother told me -- she said, 'You know, this is history, and it's going to take time,'" Lincoln said. "It's not a fault, it's a fact that there are not more women elected, and it'll be our fault if we don't."

Collins believes that changes reflected in the corporate world will bleed over into the world of politics.

"We're starting to break the glass ceiling for governors," she said. "I think that parallels the corporate world. We've had a hard time breaking the glass ceiling to become CEOs. And I think, if there are more and more women serving as CEOs, we're going to see a greater openness to women serving in executive positions in the political spectrum."

Clinton said she believes traditional attitudes need to be tested.

"A lot of the attitudes that people have historically had, you know, just have to be tested," she said. "So, I think that, like anything that requires people's attitudes to change, it is a sea change."

Many of the senators approved of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's inclusion of children during her swearing-in ceremony.

"It was wonderful…We're here to make this great country better for the next generation. And if we don't have reminders, every now and then, of what it is we're trying to do, and the choices," Lincoln said. "I mean, the choices and what you just heard goes back to what was said at the very beginning of this interview. And that is that women bring consensus. And they bring consensus because they have to make choices. They have to get results."

McCaskill said that including her grandchildren painted a more complete portrait of Pelosi.

"I think one of the things that was really important about the children -- her grandchildren -- was that it made her multi-dimensional," she said. "And I think one of the problems we have is women who run for these kind of offices is there's a tendency to become one-dimensional, and for the public to see us as, you know, a tough talking head or someone who may be knowledgeable, articulate about certain issues."

Senators to Women: Don't Listen to the Naysayers

When Sawyer asked the senators what worried them about a woman running for president, Mikulski said the senators weren't worried.

"Every one of us [experienced a] time when we got ready to run and heard the naysayers," she said. "If we had listened to the naysayer, none of us would have gone and done what we did."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she would tell women with political aspirations -- or in any walk of life -- to expect obstacles all the time.

"Every one of us has had the discouragement of the establishment. So that first step is what I would say to the women coming up -- it's the most important," she said. "Don't listen to all the people who tell you why you can't do something. You have to believe in yourself."