Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Patricia Schroeder, congresswoman who wielded barbed wit, dies at 82. (WaPo, NY Times)

Fond memories of the late U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, with whom I did two standup interviews with Colorado TV stations about our federal governments's alleged security clearance retaliation against four of her courageous constituents, Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant Model Shop employees.  

These four ethical employees were allegedly retaliated against by GS-15 national security clearance cars for blowing the whistle about Rockwell International using government contractor facility machinery, materials and workers for improper purposes -- waste fraud and abuse.   I met them in Denver during the American Bar Association's Midyear Convention in February 1990, where Chief Judge Nahum Litt and other members of the ABA House of Delegates passed our sweeping whistleblower rights resolution. The four, and two of their spouses, crowded into my hotel room, where I took notes and sent them to D.C.

With music from "The Rain in Spain" from the musical, My Fair Lady, we saw Rep. Schroeder sing in an appearance with The Capitol Steps comedy troupe circa 1989, "Immense expense is mainly in defense!"  I quoted her line in Congressional testimony for the Government Accountability Project.

Patricia Schroeder will be dearly missed.

From The Washington Post and New York Times:

Patricia Schroeder, congresswoman who wielded barbed wit, dies at 82

Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) in 1994. A Harvard Law graduate, she served in the House of Representatives from 1973 to 1997. (Joe Mahoney/AP)
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Former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, a megaphone for the women’s movement, the first woman to serve on the House Armed Services Committee and a liberal Democrat known for her barbed wit, notably coining the term “Teflon president” to lambaste President Ronald Reagan, died March 13 at a hospital in Celebration, Fla. She was 82.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said her daughter, Jamie Cornish.

Mrs. Schroeder, who grew up in a household where her father assumed women could do anything, earned a pilot’s license at 15, weathered sexism to become a Harvard-trained lawyer and was a 32-year-old mother of two when she was first elected to Congress from Colorado in 1972. “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both,” she quipped when one male lawmaker questioned how she could be a wife, mother and congresswoman.

When she arrived in Washington, there were only 14 women in the House, several of whom were widows filling out the terms of their deceased husbands. She described the institution as “an overaged frat house.”

During her 12 terms in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Schroeder was outspoken on issues that ranged from women’s rights and family matters to military policy. She was appointed to the House Armed Services Committee and then fought vigorously to be heard and respected.

F. Edward Hébert of Louisiana, the committee’s hard-line conservative Democratic chairman, allowed just one seat in the hearing room to be shared by Mrs. Schroeder and Ron Dellums, a newly elected African American congressman from California. She recalled Hébert saying, “The two of you are only worth half the normal member.”

Mrs. Schroeder said she and Dellums “sat cheek to cheek on one chair, trying to retain some dignity.”

Hébert was stripped of his chairmanship two years later in a revolt by younger committee members, but before his ouster, Mrs. Schroeder did her best to get under his skin. He returned the favor, refusing to approve her appointment to a U.S. delegation heading to an overseas conference.

Mrs. Schroeder speaks about welfare reform on Capitol Hill in 1995. Former congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) stands to the left. (Richard Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

“I wouldn’t send you to represent this committee at a dogfight,” Hébert reportedly remarked, according to a Washington Post profile of Mrs. Schroeder. The State Department eventually waived the rule requiring the chairman’s approval of all nominations, and Mrs. Schroeder made the trip.

While often on the losing end of defense debates, Mrs. Schroeder believed that her fight against the Pentagon’s “outrageous” requests helped to create “a political climate conducive to meaningful reform.” A strong proponent of arms control, she derided the Armed Services Committee as a Pentagon “lap dog” and rankled the military brass by constantly questioning their spending habits.

During a 1973 debate over a weapons system, she used mocking language invoking a slick Madison Avenue sales job: “Is it bigger? Is it faster? Is it more maneuverable? Does it give closer, more comfortable shaves?” On another occasion, she chided those who thought that “killing an enemy 15 times over makes us more secure than if we can kill him only five times over.”

On the domestic front, Mrs. Schroeder from 1979 until 1995 co-chaired the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, a bipartisan group of lawmakers devoted to advancing legislation on reproductive rights, women’s equity and workplace flexibility for parents.

She was the primary sponsor of the National Child Protection Act of 1993, which established procedures for national criminal background checks for child-care providers, and she played a pivotal role in the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which was intended to help law enforcement and victim services organizations fight rape and other forms of violent crime against women.

Mrs. Schroeder also was a strong advocate for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990, which provided lower-income women with breast and cervical cancer screening and post-screening diagnostic services in an effort to enhance early detection. The law, however, did not pay for treatment, placing many uninsured women in a predicament of not being able to afford care. A decade later, Congress passed legislation providing medical assistance to eligible uninsured women through Medicaid.

She spent nine years championing the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was approved by Congress in 1993 and provides job protection for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the care of a newborn, sick child or parent. And as chairwoman of a Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee, she was a leading advocate for federal employees in such areas as whistleblower legislation.

From left, Viki Wilson, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), Mrs. Schroeder and Vikki Stella, with her 8-month-old son, arrive for a news conference in 1996 in response to a House vote to override President Bill Clinton's veto of the ban on late-term abortions. (Ray Lustig/The Washington Post)

“Pat Schroeder was the face and voice of a new kind of congresswoman,” Ruth B. Mandel, former director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and founder of its Center for American Women and Politics, said in a 2018 interview for this obituary. “Throughout her years of dual focus and leadership on women’s and family issues and on military equipment and the armed services, there was nothing traditional about Congresswoman Schroeder.”

Two decades before Hillary Clinton first ran for president, Mrs. Schroeder made a brief exploratory bid in 1987 for the White House, but dropped out with a tearful speech. Critics on the right, citing the tears, derided her as weak, while some feminists criticized her for reinforcing the stereotype of women as emotional.

“The critics who seemed most insane to me were those who said they wouldn’t want the person who had a ‘finger on the button’ to be someone who cries,” she wrote in her 1989 book “Champion of the Great American Family.” “I answered that I wouldn’t want that person to be someone who doesn’t cry.”

Resistance at Harvard Law

Patricia Nell Scott was born in Portland, Ore., on July 30, 1940. Her father was an aviation insurance adjuster, and her mother taught elementary school. The family moved frequently, and by the time Pat entered high school in Des Moines, she had lived in six other cities.

She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1961 and received a law degree from Harvard in 1964. She was one of just 15 women in a class of more than 500 at Harvard, where she said she encountered jarring resistance to her presence, with the dean telling the women, “Do you realize you have taken this position from a man?”

She was in awe of one woman who stood her ground, telling the dean, “Well, I am only here because I could not get in at Yale.”

In 1962, she married James Schroeder, also a Harvard Law student. In addition to her husband, of Celebration, survivors include two children,Scott Schroeder of Providence, R.I., and Jamie Cornish of Bozeman, Mont.; a brother; and four grandchildren

After Harvard, the Schroeders moved to Denver to practice law. Mrs. Schroeder also signed on as legal counsel to Planned Parenthood of Colorado. In 1972, her husband, a Democratic precinct captain, urged his wife to run for Congress in an ordinarily Democratic district centered in Denver that was represented by freshman Republican Mike McKevitt.

Mrs. Schroeder won the general election by about 8,000 votes, relying heavily on grass-roots volunteers and running on a liberal, anti-Vietnam War platform. During the campaign, her opponent referred to her as “Little Patsy” and dispatched a group of young women in plaid skirts called “Mike’s girls” whose job was to describe him as a “great guy.”

Mrs. Schroeder addresses a rally in protest of the Rocky Flats Nuclear plant in front of the federal courthouse in Denver in 1978. (Raimundo Borea/AP)

She later learned that she was under surveillance by the FBI and subject to dirty tricks, with the bureau having paid her husband’s barber to be an informer.

When Mrs. Schroeder declined to seek reelection in 1996, she acknowledged that she had become frustrated by the loss of power after Republicans won the House majority in 1994 as well as by growing partisanship in Congress.

After leaving Washington — at the time as the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives — Mrs. Schroeder moved to Celebration and spent 11 years as president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers. In that job, she advocated stronger copyright laws, opposed Google’s plan to post limited content of digitized books online, and was critical of libraries for making use of electronic content without compensating publishers and writers.

Among Mrs. Schroeder’s chief legacies is a skill at a pithy quote. Some labeled her a grandstander, but her phrasemaking often helped her get her message across to the public. She literally cooked up the term Teflon president while making eggs for her children using a Teflon pan. While the term has come to be seen as an admirable quality in a leader who can overcome deficiencies that would doom anyone else, Mrs. Schroeder’s gibe was not intended as a compliment.

Political accountability, she said, slid off Reagan like the eggs from her pan. She took to the House floor in 1983 and announced, “After carefully watching Ronald Reagan, he is attempting a great breakthrough in political technology; he has been perfecting the Teflon-coated presidency.”

“He sees to it that nothing sticks to him,” Mrs. Schroeder added. “He is responsible for nothing. … He is just the master of ceremonies at someone else’s dinner.”

As the phrase caught on, she later told the Chicago Tribune, officials from the chemical giant DuPont, which holds the Teflon trademark, made an appointment to see her and threatened a copyright infringement lawsuit.

“They were most unhappy,” she said. “A guy came by my office from their corporate headquarters and kind of snarled and growled about it. I could hardly keep a straight face.”


From The New York Times:

Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Force in Congress, Dies at 82

In a long career in the House and armed with a barbed wit, she helped win legislation on family leave, pregnancy discrimination and other progressive causes.

Patricia Schroeder sitting outdoors, smiling for a portrait. A suburban street scene is in the background.
Representative Patricia Schroeder in Denver in 1994. She spent 24 years in the House.Credit...Joe Mahoney/Associated Press
Patricia Schroeder sitting outdoors, smiling for a portrait. A suburban street scene is in the background.

Patricia Schroeder, a former leading feminist legislator who helped redefine the role of women in American politics and used her wit to combat sexism in Congress, died on Monday in Celebration, Fla. She was 82.

Her death, in a hospital, was attributed to complications of a stroke, her daughter, Jamie Cornish, said.

Ms. Schroeder, who was a pilot and a Harvard-trained lawyer, had a long and distinguished career in the House of Representatives. She was a driving force behind the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which guarantees women and men up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member.

She helped pass the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which barred employers from dismissing women because they were pregnant and from denying them maternity benefits. And she championed laws that helped reform spousal pensions, opened military jobs to women, and forced federally funded medical researchers to include women in their studies.

Elected in 1972 as an opponent of the Vietnam War, Ms. Schroeder served on the Armed Services Committee for all 24 years she was in Congress. From that perch, she called for arms control and reduced military spending.

She worked to improve benefits for military personnel and persuaded the committee to recommend that women be allowed to fly combat missions; Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered it so in 1993, and by 1995 the first female fighter pilot was flying in combat. That only further outraged Ms. Schroeder’s critics on the right, like Lt. Col. Oliver North, who called her one of the nation’s 25 most dangerous politicians.

One of the most enduring public images of Ms. Schroeder is of her crying when she announced in 1987 that she would not run for president, as her supporters had hoped. At an outdoor event in Denver, she choked up with emotion, pressed a tissue to her eyes and at one point leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. The episode dismayed some feminists, who said her tears had reinforced stereotypes and set back the cause of women seeking office.

A close-up image of Ms. Schroeder holding a tissue to her eyes at a podium, apparently in tears.
Ms. Schroeder wrote that “it was my tears, not my words, that got the headlines” when she announced in 1987 that she would not run for president.Credit...Aron E. Tomlinson/Associated Press
A close-up image of Ms. Schroeder holding a tissue to her eyes at a podium, apparently in tears.

It was an ironic charge against a woman who had done so much to promote that cause. Ms. Schroeder was the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado and the first to serve on the Armed Services Committee. She had to fight blatant discrimination from the start, facing questions about how, as the mother of two young children, she could function as both a mother and a lawmaker.

I have a brain and a uterus and I use both,” she responded.

When she arrived on Capitol Hill, she was one of just 14 women in the House, an institution she called a “guy gulag,” where she was sometimes dismissed as “Little Patsy” even though she was relatively tall.

Ms. Schroeder was fully aware that women seemed to make many congressmen antsy. “It’s really funny if two women stand on the House floor,” she said. “There are usually at least two men who go by and say, ‘What is this, a coup?’ They’re almost afraid to see us in public together.”

In her book “24 Years of House Work … and the Place Is Still a Mess” (1998), she wrote of being engaged in battles on every front, “whether we were fighting for female pages (there were none) or a place where we could pee.”

The antagonism toward women was particularly pointed from Representative F. Edward Hebert, a conservative Louisiana Democrat who was the powerful chairman of what had been the all-male Armed Services Committee. At their first committee meeting in 1973, he made Ms. Schroeder sit in the same chair with Representative Ron Dellums, an African American. As she recounted it in her book, she and Mr. Dellums had to sit “cheek to cheek” because the chairman “said that women and blacks were worth only half of one ‘regular’ member.”

It is not clear that he actually uttered those words — other accounts, including Mr. Dellums’s, do not contain that quotation — but Ms. Schroeder was a sharp rhetorical speaker with a tart tongue, and she was not afraid to use it.

She was the one who branded Ronald Reagan the “Teflon president,” against whom bad news, like the Iran-contra scandal, did not stick. Of Vice President Dan Quayle, she said, “He thinks that Roe versus Wade are two ways to cross the Potomac.”

A black-and-white photo of Ms. Schroeder speaking into several microphones at a podium. A number of people are nearby, some holding signs with slogans like “Our Bodies Our Choice.”
Ms. Schroeder on the Capitol steps in Washington in 1977, addressing a rally against a ban on the use of federal funds for abortion.Credit...Bettmann, via Getty Images
A black-and-white photo of Ms. Schroeder speaking into several microphones at a podium. A number of people are nearby, some holding signs with slogans like “Our Bodies Our Choice.”

Her analysis of her opponents’ strength carried the sting of truth: “The genius of the Republicans has been how they figured out how to so polarize the middle class that we vote against our own best interests.” During her brief flirtation with running for president, she said the question she was trying to answer was this: “Is America man enough to back a woman?”

Ms. Schroeder had been co-chair of Gary Hart’s promising 1987 presidential campaign, until he quit after being exposed as an adulterer. His sudden absence prompted Ms. Schroeder to consider running herself.

Had she pursued the White House, she would have been the first woman from a major party to do so since Representative Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn, who sought the Democratic nomination in 1972.

But when she announced in Denver that she had decided against it, the crowd groaned. Her supporters had expected her to run. At that moment, her tears spilled forth.

“I had underestimated how much I wanted to pursue the presidency,” she wrote in her book, in a chapter titled “The Presidential Weep-Stakes.”

“I went on with my speech, but it was my tears, not my words, that got the headlines,” she added. “Those 17 seconds were treated like a total breakdown.”

Indeed, they created a media frenzy. Female columnists said she had ruined the chance for any woman to run for president for the rest of the century, while her conservative critics said she had displayed a dangerous emotionalism.

The harsh reaction, she said, only underscored the double standard for men versus women in American politics.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said, “that no one ever said that Joe Biden had ruined the future of men forever because people would think that they all plagiarized or that Gary Hart ruined the future of men forever because they all played around.”

Joe Biden speaking outdoors at a podium. Standing nearby are Ms. Schroeder and several other people.
Senator Joe Biden, flanked by Ms. Schroeder and Attorney General Janet Reno, at a 1994 Capitol Hill news conference about the Violence Against Women Act.Credit...John Duricka/Associated Press
Joe Biden speaking outdoors at a podium. Standing nearby are Ms. Schroeder and several other people.

After her death, President Biden released a statement of condolence, saying in part: “On issue after issue, Pat stood up for basic fairness, sensible policy, and women’s equal humanity. The result was a legislative record that changed millions of women’s lives — and men’s lives — for the better.”

Patricia Nell Scott was born on July 30, 1940, in Portland, Ore. Her father, Lee Combs Scott, was a pilot who owned an aviation insurance company. Her mother, Bernice, taught first grade. The family moved often, ending up in Des Moines, where Ms. Schroeder graduated from high school.

She earned her pilot’s license at 15 and attended the University of Minnesota, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and majored in philosophy, history and political science.

From there she went to Harvard Law School, where she was one of 15 women in a class of more than 500. She married a classmate, James Schroeder, in 1962. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her husband, along with their son, Scott; Ms. Schroeder’s brother, Mike Scott; and four grandchildren.

After Ms. Schroeder graduated from Harvard Law in 1964, she and her family settled in Denver, where she worked for the National Labor Relations Board, volunteered as counsel for Planned Parenthood and taught at the University of Colorado and Regis College.

In 1972, when President Richard M. Nixon appeared to be headed for re-election in a landslide, the Democratic Party fielded only a conservative candidate for Congress in Ms. Schroeder’s Denver district. Other liberals, including her husband, encouraged her to challenge him in a primary. They did not think she could necessarily win, but they thought it was important that someone give voice to their views — antiwar, pro-environment and pro-women’s rights.

She had almost no money and no backing, but her message and enthusiasm caught on. Gloria Steinem campaigned for her. And she won both the primary and the general election against a Republican incumbent, despite the Nixon landslide. Years later, when she requested her F.B.I. file, Ms. Schroeder found out that the bureau had placed her under surveillance during that race, breaking into her home and even recruiting her husband’s barber as an informant.

A black-and-white photo of a family living room, with Ms. Schroeder and her husband in separate chairs, each holding a child. They are watching Walter Cronkite on television.
Ms. Schroeder watching election returns with her family in November 1972. She won, becoming Colorado’s first congresswoman.Credit...Bettmann, via Getty Images
A black-and-white photo of a family living room, with Ms. Schroeder and her husband in separate chairs, each holding a child. They are watching Walter Cronkite on television.

She was re-elected 11 more times with only token Republican opposition. After the Democrats lost the House in 1994 and she had served in the minority for two years, she decided to retire. She would be 56 and the longest-serving woman in the House, and her decision upset many Democrats.

“She was the coach, the leader, the strategist,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, told The Washington Post. “She was, by far, the greatest feminist of my time.”

Even some foes bore her grudging respect. Tony Blankley, press secretary to her nemesis, the Republican speaker Newt Gingrich, said, “I sense her legacy will be effectiveness in political rhetoric,” which he called “an honorable part of this business.”

As she left the House, she remained discouraged by the lack of gender equality in Congress. She told The Los Angeles Times, “I think women still should never kid themselves that they’re going to come here and be part of the team.”

She taught briefly at Princeton before becoming president and chief operating officer of the Association of American Publishers, the trade association for the book publishing industry, where she served for 11 years.

There, she fiercely opposed Google’s plan to digitize copyrighted books, declaring that Google was “seeking to make millions of dollars by freeloading on the talent and property of authors and publishers.” The dispute eventually ended in a settlement in 2008 in which writers and publishers would be compensated and, in some cases, users would be allowed to see up to 20 percent of the content of a book.

Afterward, she and her husband retired to Florida, specifically Celebration, a master-planned community built (and sold) by the Walt Disney Company. She remained an activist, continuing to advocate for the causes that had always animated her, like improving family life and caring for the planet, just as she had imagined doing in her book decades earlier.

“In my dotage, rocking on my porch,” she wrote, “I will probably be faxing or emailing or communicating by whatever 21st-century method I cannot even fathom about social wrongs that need to be righted.”

Vivek Shankar contributed reporting.

A correction was made on 
March 14, 2023

An earlier version of this obituary included an incomplete list of Ms. Schroeder’s survivors. In addition to those named, she is survived by four grandchildren.

When we learn of a mistake, we acknowledge it with a correction. If you spot an error, please let us know at nytnews@nytimes.com.Learn more

Katharine Q. “Kit” Seelye is a Times obituary writer. She was previously the paper's New England bureau chief, based in Boston. She worked in The Times's Washington bureau for 12 years, has covered six presidential campaigns and pioneered The Times’s online coverage of politics. @kseelye

A black-and-white photo of a family living room, with Ms. Schroeder and her husband in separate chairs, each holding a child. They are watching Walter Cronkite on television.



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