Together 'Sweet 16' Say They Can Do Anything

ByABC News via logo

Jan. 18, 2007 — -- The Senate "Sweet 16" -- the 16 women U.S. senators -- say that together they can do anything.

The oldest is 72 and the youngest is 46. They have more than two dozen children among them, not to mention grandchildren.

One walks three miles every morning and another hit the campaign trail in sneakers. One of them was the first in her family to graduate from college and admits a kind of passion for the TV show "Project Runway."

They are 16 women who decided to try a kind of political experiment -- leaving partisanship at the door to seek legislation. Together, they have changed the world, securing retirement funds for homemakers, including women in crucial medical clinical trials, and pushing for family and medical leave.

However much they disagree in their meetings, they agree not to lose sight of the goal.

"When we have come together, ever since I've been here, when the women have come together on an issue, we have won," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer.

Sawyer asked the senators to play a game of the fill-in-the-blank. The first sentence was "Women as leaders are more ___ than men."

"Collaborative. Collegial," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., said "consensus builders."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said "bottom line."

According to Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, women leaders are more "pragmatic" and "hardworking."

Newcomer Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said women leaders were better multitaskers than men.

"I think we're better at doing four or five things at once. And, frankly, that's a skill that's incredibly important around this place -- is being able to do four or five things at once," McCaskill said. "Being a mom of three kids and a single mom for a while, it was great training for the organizational skills you need to bring to this endeavor."

Another newcomer, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., could relate to multitasking.

"On Friday, I gave my first floor speech, and while I was getting ready and reading it, I was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my daughter's lunch, and I thought to myself, 'There's not many guys doing this now,'" she said.

Snowe believes that sense of congeniality is key to establishing a bipartisan agenda.

"And in the Senate, there are too few avenues to develop a bipartisan agenda. … [There are] avenues to develop a partisan agenda. And that is one of the problems, that I think we sort of set a standard in the fact that we get together -- as Hillary said -- on an informal basis, have a chance to have conversations, get to know one another, develop a congenial, collaborative, cooperative relationship," she said. "I think it sets an example for others to follow -- the way in which you can conduct yourself, even if you have political and philosophical differences."

Collins, however, cautioned people not to think that all the women senators think alike.

"Because we don't. I reject the idea that there are, quote, 'women's issues.' Every issue is a woman's issue," she said. "I think that all of us have made a real effort not to be pigeonholed, but to work on a wide variety of issues. So there isn't one voice that women represent. We span the ideological spectrum, just as men do."

"But am I right that you made a decision not to campaign against each other? That's one of the things that you wanted to agree on," Sawyer asked.

"That's when we were nine" women senators, Feinstein said.

According to the senators, that promise no longer applies.

"So it's, I think, you know. … I think the reality for us is that men campaign for each other and against each other," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "And to be total equals, that's going to happen with us as well."

The senators will, however, keep up civil relationship.

"Well, what we did decide is to be a zone of civility," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. "That within an institution that got increasingly prickly, increasingly partisan, that we could disagree without being disagreeable."

What message does the group want to send about balancing family and work?

"You've got to have the right support group. But men need a support group, too, and women do as well. So with raising two small children, having a husband who's working, I hope that I'm a good senator and a good wife and a good mother," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "You know, I'm not perfect every minute of every day, Diane, but over time. … [I] think I'm doing a good job at this."

Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, D-Alaska, wonders what the public thinks about the senators.

"But I think … what are people thinking about us? Do we really think that we have it all?" she said. "We do not have it all. I don't think it's possible to have it all. But I think what people need to recognize, particularly young women who might be looking to being a United States senator, it's you can, that we can be that role model, that you can have the opportunity to represent in an incredible capacity, but you can also still be a mom and a wife and an aunt and the one that takes care of the dog and makes the lunches and makes sure that the Christmas trappings get taken care of."

Feinstein said she admired the younger women in the group.

"The younger women here are quite amazing because they have young children. And Amy was speaking about it, are able to do it. I've thought a lot. I don't think I could do it if my children were young the way some of you do it," Feinstein said. "When you think of how it's changed, and how women can be here in their 30s and 40s, it's really quite amazing."

When asked the best advice they had ever been given, the senators had a wide range of answers.

"Each and every one of us can make a difference, but when we work together we can make change," Mikulski said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, "Don't be afraid."

"Even if everyone comes after you, believe in who you are and what you believe in. Stay true to that. It's very important," she said.

"Do what's right," Snowe said.

"Be grateful for the blessings you have," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said.

"Orville Wright never had a flying certificate," Klobuchar said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events