Recently, women in the Senate showed that it is still possible to overcome partisan divisions on the Hill. A feature in Time magazine this week, "Women are the Only Adults Left in Washington", examined the relationships that have developed among women Senators, and how these Senators capitalize on those relationships to overcome gridlock. The article describes the end of the era of the "old boys' club," and claims that it is now made up of the "the four Republicans and 16 democrats who happen to be women." But it is not by chance that these Senators are all women, that's what has created the bond that allows them to work well together. The article credits dinners and an unofficial rule that women do not criticize each other.
This article raises some interesting questions about coalitions within the Senate. It raises the point that women are far from achieving parity in Congress, and while there are some women in powerful leadership roles (Sens. Murray, Mikulski, among others), there are many committees that have yet to have a female chair. Furthermore, party leadership in the Senate is currently all men. So perhaps what allows the 20 female Senators to refrain from criticizing each other and to broker effective deals is that they are outsiders, in a sense. As we saw during the government shutdown, party leaders such as Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell spent a good deal of time assigning blame and claiming credit. But Senators Collins and Mikulski, who got the ball rolling on a potential solution to the government shutdown, had the opportunity to refrain from assigning blame and claiming credit for their parties because they are not in formal leadership positions. It is interesting to think about women Senators' actions during the government shutdown as a unique variation of credit claiming. Rather than claiming credit for themselves or for their party, women in the Senate have been able to quietly claim credit for their bipartisan work, as evidenced by the Time article.
It would also be useful to think about whether these kind of relationships exist in the House. There is roughly the same proportion of women in the House as in the Senate, and yet those women have not garnered the same kind of attention for building relationships and working together across party lines.