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Mitt Romney’s Answer To Pay Equity: ‘Binders Full Of Women’ Lie And ‘Flexibility’ To Cook Dinner

Just as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had the Obama campaign sweating it out a little over a possible narrowing of the electoral gender gap, the former Massachusetts Governor swooped in at Tuesday night’s debate to hand that advantage back to President Obama. Asked what each candidate would do to ensure gender pay equity, Romney delivered a response that included nothing about pay equity, but did include a lie about “binders full of women,” and a reference to women needing “flexibility” in the workplace so they can be home to make dinner.

The question, from attendee Katherine Fenton, was “In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”

The question was a big, fat hanging curveball for President Obama, who knocked it into the bleachers with ease, citing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, along with support for education. Frankly, there would have been little excuse had he not hit that question a mile.

Governor Romney, for some reason, decided to completely ignore the question about pay equity, a bewildering choice given that he (eventually, through a spokesperson) staked out a position broadly in favor of it. All he had to do was throw the phrase “I support pay equity” somewhere into the salad, and he might have gotten away with a few female voters. He did not.

Instead, Romney gave an answer that could hardly have been worse had he let me write it for him. First, he told a story about assembling his cabinet as Massachusetts Governor that underscored his complete ignorance of the subject. In 2002, at the age of 55, Mitt Romney just got around to noticing that women were underrepresented in positions of power. “…I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men,” he noted, quizzically.

“And I went to my staff, and I said, ‘How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.’ They said, ‘Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.’ And I said, ‘Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?'”

Gosh, I don’t know, do such beasts exist?

“And so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet,” he continued, then added “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

Aside from sounding like the trophy fetish for some character in a Dexter story arc, the phrase “binders full of women” has become a global phenomenon, a snappy, absurd shorthand for Mitt Romney’s Mad Men-era views on women in the workplace. As horrible as that story is in responding to a question about pay equity, it turns out it isn’t even true. Romney says he “went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,'” but what actually happened was that a number of women’s groups got together, Voltron-style, to form the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (or MassGAP) to pressure governors to appoint more women. Here’s what they did:

In 2002 MassGAP had tremendous success in getting all of the gubernatorial candidates to agree to improve the proportion of women appointees if elected. The MassGAP founders presented Governor Romney with a book of résumés of eligible women candidates that had been researched and recommended by MassGAP. Governor Romney appointed several candidates from this list, increasing the gender parity in Massachusetts. The project was so successful that he was awarded the 2005 Exemplary Leadership Award by the National Women Republican’s Club. Governor Romney credited his ability to appoint so many women to top leadership positions to the efforts of MassGAP.

They approached him (and every other candidate for governor) and gave him the binder in question.

So far, not a great response to a very specific question, but hey, at least he didn’t toss out any stereotypes about womenfolk and their child issues, or (chortle) cooking dinner. We can get through this:

“Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.”

Mitt Romney: no equal pay, but he’ll get you home in time to cook dinner.

Because Romney failed to make the easy-as-kittens declaration that “I support equal pay,” President Obama was able to come back and hit him on his campaign’s initial refusal to answer a question about the Lilly Ledbetter Act. “I just want to point out that when Governor Romney’s campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it? He said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ And that’s not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy.”

He then proceeded to beat Romney up over women’s health issues, even forcing Romney to completely reverse his position on contraception. After Romney was asked the next question, he doubled back to the contraception issue to say “I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And — and the — and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”

No, it wasn’t, and President Obama’s reaction to the birth of Mitt Fluke is priceless. Here’s the clip, from Fox News:



Transcript:

QUESTION: In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?

OBAMA: Well, Katherine, that’s a great question. And, you know, I was raised by a single mom who had to put herself through school while looking after two kids. And she worked hard every day and made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we got everything we needed. My grandmother, she started off as a secretary in a bank. She never got a college education, even though she was smart as a whip. And she worked her way up to become a vice president of a local bank, but she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career.

She didn’t complain. That’s not what you did in that generation. And this is one of the reasons why one of the first — the first bill I signed was something called the Lily Ledbetter bill. And it’s named after this amazing woman who had been doing the same job as a man for years, found out that she was getting paid less, and the Supreme Court said that she couldn’t bring suit because she should have found about it earlier, whereas she had no way of finding out about it. So we fixed that. And that’s an example of the kind of advocacy that we need, because women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family. This is not just a women’s issue, this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that’s why we’ve got to fight for it.

It also means that we’ve got to make sure that young people like yourself are able to afford a college education. Earlier, Governor Romney talked about he wants to make Pell Grants and other education accessible for young people.

Well, the truth of the matter is, is that that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women, all across the country.

We did it by taking $60 billion that was going to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program, and we said, let’s just cut out the middleman. Let’s give the money directly to students.

And as a consequence, we’ve seen millions of young people be able to afford college, and that’s going to make sure that young women are going to be able to compete in that marketplace.

But we’ve got to enforce the laws, which is what we are doing, and we’ve also got to make sure that in every walk of life we do not tolerate discrimination.

That’s been one of the hallmarks of my administration. I’m going to continue to push on this issue for the next four years.

CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?

ROMNEY: Thank you. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.

And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?”

ROMNEY: And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.

I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.

She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women. In the — in the last women have lost 580,000 jobs. That’s the net of what’s happened in the last four years. We’re still down 580,000 jobs. I mentioned 31/2 million women, more now in poverty than four years ago.

What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

This is what I have done. It’s what I look forward to doing and I know what it takes to make an economy work, and I know what a working economy looks like. And an economy with 7.8 percent unemployment is not a real strong economy. An economy that has 23 million people looking for work is not a strong economy.

An economy with 50 percent of kids graduating from college that can’t finds a job, or a college level job, that’s not what we have to have. CROWLEY: Governor?

ROMNEY: I’m going to help women in America get good work by getting a stronger economy and by supporting women in the workforce.

CROWLEY: Mr. President why don’t you get in on this quickly, please?

OBAMA: Katherine, I just want to point out that when Governor Romney’s campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it? He said, “I’ll get back to you.” And that’s not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy. Now, there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace. For example, their healthcare. You know a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making.

I think that’s a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured. Because this is not just a — a health issue, it’s an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family’s pocket. Governor Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.

That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country, who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That’s a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country. And it makes a difference in terms of how well and effectively women are able to work. When we talk about child care, and the credits that we’re providing. That makes a difference in whether they can go out there and — and earn a living for their family.

These are not just women’s issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues.

And one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are.

CROWLEY: Mr. President…

OBAMA: And I’ve got two daughters and I want to make sure that they have the same opportunities that anybody’s sons have. That’s part of what I’m fighting for as president of the United States.

CROWLEY: I want to move us along here to Susan Katz, who has a question.

And, Governor, it’s for you. QUESTION: Governor Romney, I am an undecided voter, because I’m disappointed with the lack of progress I’ve seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much of America’s economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration.

Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?

ROMNEY: Thank you. And I appreciate that question.

I just want to make sure that, I think I was supposed to get that last answer, but I want to point out that that I don’t believe…

OBAMA: I don’t think so, Candy.

ROMNEY: … I don’t believe…

OBAMA: I want to make sure our timekeepers are working here.

ROMNEY: The time — the time…

CROWLEY: OK. The timekeepers are all working. And let me tell you that the last part, it’s for the two of you to talk to one another, and it isn’t quite as (inaudible) you think.

But go ahead and use this two minutes any way you’d like to, the question is on the floor.

ROMNEY: I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And — and the — and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.

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