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Heard on the Hill: Palin Splits Female Caucus

The women of the Senate might enjoy sisterly solidarity on a variety of topics, but there’s one subject on which they diverge: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Four female Senators shared their experiences during a Wednesday panel discussion, and the lightning rod of a former GOP vice presidential candidate was one of the few topics on which the bipartisan group differed.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) opined during a session sponsored by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society that she thought Palin and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton got relatively fair treatment compared to their male counterparts during the 2008 presidential campaign.

But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had a totally different take. “I really disagree,” she said vehemently. She noted that Palin was frequently asked who would take care of her children and recalled the scrutiny that Clinton endured when she teared up during the New Hampshire primary. “I can’t think of that happening to a male candidate,” she said.

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Palin simply fell short of the “toughness test” that female candidates have to meet to get taken seriously. “She showed a lack of experience, knowledge, and a limited world view,” she said, adding that her “attractive female package” overshadowed her shortcomings.

Feinstein clearly doesn’t approve of Palin’s decision to leave the governorship before her term was up. “And now she’s done what I think we should never do. ... It’s important that we show the drive and stamina,” Feinstein said, especially since the women agreed that female politicians are held to a higher standard.

One thing the women do agree about, though, is that living the multitasking life of a mother/Senator/wife leaves little time for extracurricular activities ... like affairs.

“For one thing, I don’t have the time,” Hutchison laughed when asked why the recent spate of philandering pols hasn’t included any women. She said she’s so busy that she wouldn’t have time for everything else “while you’re getting your flight to South America,” a dig at South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who had a high-profile dalliance with an Argentinian mistress.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) agreed. “I’m changing diapers and getting dinner on the table. ... It’s just not a reality,” she said.

Gonna Be Your Man in Motion. The classic 1980s flick “St. Elmo’s Fire” is not only considered among the great coming-of-age films of the decade, it’s also one of the most famous movies ever set in Washington. But here’s a little factoid you might not know: Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) helped inspire it.

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