Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Blazing Trails In Congress

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is one of the most powerful women in politics - but  that hasn’t stopped people from asking if she’ll survive 2018.

Now in her seventh term, her position as Chair of the Republican House Conference makes her the top-ranking female Republican in Congress. But things can change fast in the halls of power, and this year is shaping up as a two-front war for McMorris Rodgers.

That’s because she has to worry about the situation in Washington, D.C. as well as Washington state.  In the east, the retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan has created a GOP scramble for power that some think could leave McMorris Rodgers in the dust. In the west, there’s a potential blue wave election that could mean seats thought to be safe might change hands.

McMorris Rodgers is aware of all the stories floating around D.C.—some claim she isn’t effective in her leadership position and so may be forced out, or will even voluntarily step down. She says she has no such plans, and many insiders doubt the GOP would push out a high-profile woman like her.

“Being a mom makes politics real. That’s why it’s so critical that more women and moms are elected to Congress..."

— Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

The congresswoman believes all the talk about jockeying for power in the Capitol is a distraction, something that serves to get in the way of the true struggle, which is to hold the House in November.  In an interview with Fox News about her career and the challenges she and her party face, McMorris Rodgers said her focus at present “is leading the Conference to stay on track to advance our agenda and keep our majority.”

Regarding the GOP’s chances, she says no one is taking anything for granted, and that “we will continue to run on our record that is delivering real results to Americans and their families....As a leader in the House, I’ve worked to ensure that each House Republican has the resources and strategies they need to reach the hearts and minds of families in their districts.”

Her own re-election in Washington state’s solid red 5th Congressional District is far from guaranteed.  In the seven times she’s run for Congress, her average victory margin was over 20%.  But polls taken in April give her only a 6% lead over Democrat Lisa Brown, 44% to 38%, with 16% undecided and 3% voting for others. That lead is within the margin of error, so she may be in for the race of her life.

Jan. 13, 2015: Rep. McMorris Rodgers seen here with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler supporting newly appointed Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wa)

Jan. 13, 2015: Rep. McMorris Rodgers seen here with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler supporting newly appointed Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wa) (courtesy of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers)

Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, of Washington’s 3rd District, believes McMorris Rodgers is up to the task as someone who keeps her eye on the ball.  Beutler was previously a legislative aide to McMorris Rodgers, and saw up close how she understood the state she serves.

“I’ll never forget the time...I brought a bill to Cathy and recommended she support it,” Beutler told Fox News. “Cathy, always polite, listed off all of the constituent groups back in Eastern Washington that she wanted to hear from on this bill, and asked me ‘Have you talked to them?’  I hadn’t.  It was a defining moment for me to realize the most important voices aren’t in Washington, D.C.—they’re back home.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' three children

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' three children (courtesy of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers)

McMorris Rodgers also believes her life as a working mom is an important part of what she represents. “I had all three of my kids while serving in the House, and they have absolutely made me a better legislator,” she explained.  “Being a mom makes politics real. That’s why it’s so critical that more women and moms are elected to Congress, and why it’s essential we have a voice at the leadership table.  We are best suited to make sure that all policies are written with women and moms in mind.”

“I brought a bill to Cathy and recommended she support it. [She] listed off all of the constituent groups back [home] and asked me ‘Have you talked to them?’ I hadn’t. It was a defining moment for me to realize the most important voices aren’t in Washington, D.C. — they’re back home.”

— Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.

When her oldest son, Cole, was born with Down Syndrome, that also had a major effect.  She says Cole “has given me a whole new passion to be an ability advocate...In 2014, the ABLE Act was signed into law. It created tax-free savings accounts for people to save for college, retirement and other future expenses.  It marked a new chapter for Cole and the millions of American with a disability.”

Rep. McMorris Rodgers seen here with her son Cole born with Down Syndrome

Rep. McMorris Rodgers seen here with her son Cole born with Down Syndrome (courtesy of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers)

She notes she wants to make sure all Americans, no matter their ability level, have the opportunity to find a job and become independent.

When asked to describe her story in just ten words, she said she’s a “pioneer, trailblazer, wife, working mom of three, ability advocate and trust-builder.”

That’s actually eleven words, but who’s counting.  In fact, it’s the counting that’ll take place November that matters to McMorris Rodgers and her party. And she believes she’s in the right place to lead her party to victory. Political pundits are waiting to see if she’s correct.

Fox News' Kristine Kotta contributed reporting to this story.