LUKAS: Conservatives need to do a better job reminding people that the whole reason why I support the reforms I do, why I want things like tax reform and deregulation is because of compassion and wanting people to have the chance to move up.
ERBE: Hello I'm Bonnie Erbe and welcome to To The Contrary. This week in our series with women thought leaders, I'm sitting down with one of our regular panelists, Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women's Forum. The IWF’s mission is to increase the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. So welcome Carrie,
LUKAS: Thank you for having me.
ERBE: Thank you for being here. So tell me first the IWF’s mission. It's not like a lot of women's groups on the left, you know, it's not about anything- you don't get into abortion rights, you don't get into the more some of the more controversial issues, so would you say that you're attracting more women these days, and if so how are you doing it? Yeah the Independent Women's Forum recognized that there was a lot of women who- who didn't feel like they were being represented by the other women's groups that are out there. Obviously reproductive rights are very important to a lot of people, but not everybody and there's people who- who both are pro-choice and pro-life who want to be involved in women's in a women's organization and to hear their opinions represented on things like taxes and health care and education policy, and so we wanted to provide a voice and a home for them, and that's really why the Independent Women's Forum exists.
ERBE: What's it like running a conservative women's group in the Trump Era?
LUKAS: Well it's not that different from any other era. The Independent Women's Forum is um certainly right-of-center. We believe in economic liberty and limited government which lends itself more to kind of a conservative or the Republican champions and kind of that's- that team if you were in today's partisan world, but we are a nonpartisan organization and so we aren't kind of focused on- on politics, but that certainly doesn't mean that politics doesn't heavily impact our conversations. You know and a lot of people have asked me, you know, when you get when it came to when President Trump was a candidate, obviously he came- he was not a typical Republican. He had a wide variety of beliefs and kind of came from outside of the party structure and people have asked, you know, what do you do as a you know a spokeswoman for a conservative women's organization? And I think it was actually pretty easy because I think you call the balls and the strikes like you see them. I thought that when- when- when Trump was coming out with some of his economic policies and his platforms for what he wanted to do in terms of judges and the economy and health care, I was looking at this and said wow this is great stuff, when we talked about that, but then when it came to some of the- the comments that he's made at different times about- about women and some of his background and treatment of women in them and in the past, we've tried to be pretty frank and said that- that's- that's not something that we think is appropriate for a president and not how we want people to behave. So we've tried to just be a neutral you know to call it like it is had almost staying true to our principles.
ERBE: But I often wonder how- how women, because this president has so many strikes against him when it comes to women, how he treats his wife, how you know how they don't seem at least in public to get along very well sometimes, the- the videotape about him grabbing women's genitals, and stuff, how do you- even if he does support all the policies that a woman likes, how can you dismiss-
LUKAS: Well it's not it's not dismissed. I mean, we were- I think in in 2016 America had a choice and it was a choice that a lot of people didn't think was the best set of options and when it came to someone like Mrs. Clinton, she was somebody that I thought had a very checkered record when it came to supporting women, um and having you know her record on standing up for women's rights I thought was at best mixed, and then when it came to what she was proposing was something that across the board I saw as the wrong direction for the country, towards more government, more intrusive regulations, higher taxes, a more socialized healthcare system. These were all things that I could clearly see as what I would say were big drawbacks, so while you had to make a choice between two viable candidates, and for- for someone like me it was pretty clear that while there were again things that on a personal level that I wasn't- I didn't think we're great, I had that- that on balance that the- the promise of what the Trump administration would do, I thought, was going to make people better off, but again that's why I think we have to you look at the real choices that we have, but then speak honestly about- about the trade-offs that we face.
ERBE: The- the polls seem to show usually on average a 10 to 20 percent gap between men and women on various candidates, various issues, and the reason for that, at least the reason I've divined after many years of following it, is that women are 10 to 20 percent more dependent on government largesse, and so how do you reach those women obviously mainly lower income, poor women, with your message when they're the ones who need, you know, what used to be referred to as welfare, when they need food stamps to feel to you know feed their families?
LUKAS: Sure, I mean, I think what would- would the Independent Women's Forum focuses on is the important of economic opportunity, and there is no one today who was talking about removing the safety net for those who need it. When we talk about things like welfare reform or improving Social Security, reforming health care, it's with a focus on trying to make the system work better so that fewer people will need things like- like food stamps and need these programs but would be able to use it when they need it and then graduate from it. There's a lot of people out there who are concerned that our welfare programs and what used to be the safety net is now a net that traps people that makes it impossible for them to move up. The Independent Women's Forum is very focused on education we want there to be better education. We think- I think it is a tragedy that there's so many people and children out there, children and adults, who don't have the opportunity to gain skills they need to- to work and to- to be able to participate in the economy and find work that pays. We need to focus on figuring out how to make our public schools work better. They have tremendous amount of resources something's going wrong. They aren't using them efficiently, too many people are falling through the cracks. But it is often, you're right that- that conservatives need to do a better job reminding people that the whole reason why I support the reforms I do, why I want things like tax reform and deregulation and the government to get out of people's way is because I think it's hurting our most vulnerable communities, so that's why that's why we come to this because of compassion and wanting people to have the chance to move up. It's not because we want to take away that safety net or begrudge people their handout, we want them to be able to do better than that.
ERBE: You have a program that you've proposed for paid family leave right?
LUKAS: Yeah, you know, this is an issue- I think that this is such a perfect issue to talk about we talked about kind of different philosophies of trying to help- help women because I think that there's a real misconception over what the kind of the debate is when it comes to something like paid family leave. You hear all the time, I bet people see in their social media feeds, this claim that you know the United States is the worst country in the world for women you know because because we don't have a paid family leave and your women are better off in Zimbabwe and things like this.
ERBE: They’re talking about the word World Economic Forum.
LUKAS: Yeah, but this is- but it's a complete misconception of how our economy works, you know, it's important first of all to recognize that most companies and most full-time workers do have access to paid time off. The vast majority have access to paid- paid sick leave, paid vacation time, personal time. Some have a bucket that's just for paid maternity leave, many don't but they allow people to use things like vacation and- and pay limit-
ERBE: Allow me to interrupt for a second, we worked with closely, now this goes back many years, but with the Work and Family Institute in New York and with major corporations that were trying to develop programs, but it was still the vast minority of women who had access if you could paid family leave-
LUKAS: that's because you're looking at a bucket, I mean you're looking at a silo that's called paid family leave. It's interesting the Census Bureau does a really a thorough job of going out and asking it asked mother is expecting their a child you know what happened- what happened to you after you had your baby? Did you take pay time off from work? And- and more than half of them did have paid time off from work and that's because they had access to things like paid vacation, paid sick leave, and were able to use these times, but we recognized that so this thing is is that I think is important for us to recognize that there are a lot of companies out there, companies and small business owners or organizations that are trying to do right by their employees so we need to keep that in mind as we try to figure out a solution to help those who don't have access because clearly there are a lot of people who don't have access to paid leave or don't have sufficient pay leave, but someone so many of the solutions that are commonly proposed and have been proposed by the left have said ok let's create a new entitlement program have a new payroll tax that every worker will have to pay and give everybody, the federal government will start paying everybody this many weeks of paid leave. We thought that was a mistake because it would displace all of the- the paid leave that's already out there. Many people would end up with less benefits, fewer benefits, less flexible benefits, and so we wanted to find something would targeted those people who need paid leave but without changing everything and that's what we tried to do with this new approach that you mentioned.
ERBE: But just now I was surprised quite frankly when you came out with that program because to me it's- it's more of a left thing you know- left a democratic proposal to get women paid family leave and maternity leave.
LUKAS The Independent Women's Forum has that we've always written about the need to try to help people who are falling through the cracks and- and need paid leave so that they don't end up using other form of assistance so they can stay in their jobs, have the time they need off from work, but we need to do it without creating something that would harm everyone else that and that's the problem with a new entitlement program, so we've you know the great thing is are the that there's ways to do this you know we have a program used to the Social Security system, that everyone is already paying twelve percent of their payroll into from the time you start working at here your first paycheck and- and so our proposal is to allow people to, when they have a baby or are adopting a child, be able to access their Social Security benefits now, much like they do for Social Security disability, so they can take the time they need following that the birth or adoption of a child, but then in return for having taken that they would delay their- their eligibility for retirement benefits by about if you take 12 weeks off for having a baby you would have 12 weeks later retirement that's the numbers are still being crunched but that's about what it would be. We see this as this is a great way to help people who need it when they need it but then also have some responsibility and say you're gonna face a trade-off there's a cost for this I'm so to encourage people to use it to use their leave efficiently.
ERBE: Mmm okay now where is the IWF on diversity?
LUKAS: On diversity, you know that's an interesting question because we think that diversity is important in all aspects of life. That we want there to be diversity of thought is very important as well as- as backgrounds, but we think that it's also important that when government gets involved in trying to mandate diversity, that doesn't become diversity that becomes you government doing something it shouldn't, so we're big believers in diversity, but I think that when it comes to government's role in creating diversity that's something I would think is very problematic.
LUKAS: So for women and for persons of color? A lot of corporations are trying to diversify or those efforts good or bad?
ERBE: Well I think it's their efforts are good when they're organic and it's something that they're trying to figure out the right way to- to encourage and all people to use their talents to the best of their ability and that's what you for too long women have been overlooked just as people of color have been overlooked, so we need to make sure that those kind of barriers to entry um or to progress are taken down, but I think it's a mistake when you- when you start saying and the way we know that this works is if we have this many number of women in a boardroom because I think those artificial barriers or those are artificial quotas, can- can really end up backfiring. We're going in the right direction and we need to let it let that continue not have government come in and try to to push us in a way that might backfire.
LUKAS: But the flip side of that is that there aren't women out there who are qualified, that aren't women of color who are qualified. I mean the and- and now you know it's been 20- 30 years since all the top universities started admitting women and doing more to bring in people of color and people of different ethnic backgrounds, and so they're out there, I mean the Harvard- the female Harvard grads and Harvard business school grads are way more than they were before, and a lot of them still can't get on corporate boards, can't you know look at the look at the Trump cabinet for example. Look how white and male it is compared with prior cabinets, I mean we've gone back in that way if you see it as going back, a good 20-30 years.
ERBE: Well, but you know, I think that that's there's a lot of selectivity when it comes to comes to how we- we measure this you know I look at the at the Trump administration and I see a lot of really powerful women out there. I'm you see yo Kellyanne Conway was the I think that it's funny when you think of - yeah who started as a panelist in your show she was a torn of a board member of the Independent Women's Forum and I think that you know that the reception should that she's gotten would have been incredibly different had she been for a different candidate. She's the first woman to have run and won a presidential campaign. That would have been big news, but instead I think that the media has been incredibly unfair and- and- and dismissive. Someone like Ivanka Trump, I feel like had this been had it been Hillary Clinton and if in Chelsea Clinton who was taking a prominent role in her mother's administration she would have been considered a feminist hero and instead you have people being just brutal to Ivanka Trump and to and to Kellyanne Conway, so I think that there's often a very selective and unfair treatment of conservative women as compared to- and there's a tendency of female conservatives or Republicans to be overlooked yeah when we come to conversation.
ERBE: But you're talking about by the media right?
LUKAS: By the media absolutely.
ERBE: Do you think it's true in corporate America too?
LUKAS: No not necessary in corporate- corporate America, but it takes a long time. Most people in corporate boards are a lot older and women still do, and I think this is something that that we kind of he's kept - it's problematic, but women have often have a more disrupted a work history and that impacts their long-term earnings and- and growth and we need to figure out as a country how to help women have more on roads to get back into the corporate world, but also trust that this is happening and you see this happening more and more, but it's a process that will take that I'll take a while and it may never be 50/50 and I'm- I'm very okay with that. We all know that women and men tend to make different choices about how to spend their time and talents, and that's not a problem that I think we have to solve as long as everyone has the opportunity to follow their own vision of happiness.
ERBE: Now you mentioned earlier, the MeToo movement. What do you think of it?
LUKAS: I'm well I think if there's a lot of great things that have come out of it and it's- it's a very important for women to come forward, it sounds like there was a lot of powerful people particularly in Hollywood, but then also some in Washington DC and in the media community who were clearly abusing their position of power. I think we need to be careful as we kind of go to the next stage of figuring out how to strike a balance because you know, we do believe you know there were a country that believes it's that kind of founded on the idea of due process and innocence until proven guilty, so we have to make sure that we keep that in mind and not allow you know men to become scared of women or- or victims of a kind of a witch-hunt that might.
ERBE: Do you see that happening?
LUKAS: I mean I think it can happen. I certainly think that there are some instances where there seem to be men who thought that they were involved in consensual relationships, and then the woman comes back later and says well actually no. We need to figure out how to make sure that that's we can you, and it's it so it's a difficult line to balance it's not an easy it's not an easy issue because you need to try to encourage people to have better conversations and to understand, but we can't I think that we need to make sure that we don't go too far in and just creating almost like an anti male backlash, which I think could also ultimately hurt women as well as men.
ERBE: Do you agree with Secretary Devos, Education Secretary DeVos about limiting women's Title XI rights to- to accuse man-
LUKAS: I do very much believe that our college campuses had often swung too far in the wrong direction. I believe that if somebody has been accused of rape, that's a matter for the police not for a somebody sitting in a the often you know a office in on a college campus. That's a serious charge and it should be taken seriously.
ERBE: Where do you stand on immigration?
LUKAS: Every country should have secure borders and a legal system for people to enter it is obviously not ideal to have a massive problem with- with illegal immigration or a massive amount of illegal immigration, so we need to figure out how to secure our borders, but then to make sure that we are welcoming people from around the world from a variety of countries and in inviting the same kind of-
ERBE: In the same numbers we've been letting them in which is a million a year?
LUKAS: Um you know that's that's our yeah that's a shade of gray that that that isn't it's kind of outside of our scope. What I think is important is that we have a legal process to make sure that different did a variety of countries I do think that-
ERBE: Should there be quotas?
LUKAS: For us in terms of quotas I do think that we should be I'm trying to make sure that we are welcoming people in who have skills that we need. I mean there's a lot of areas of deficiency in our you know our skill set as a country and we need to make sure that we're letting people in who can bring new skills and bring new jobs and help our economy grow, and then also have a compassionate immigration system that can help people from parts of the world where they are being- being mistreated you obviously have an asylum program I think that's important and probably ought to be expanded, but we also need to make sure that that the people are following the rules and that people are coming in in a in a manner that that makes sure we're protecting the security of our citizens.
ERBE: Do you think we should be letting allowing in more Syrians for example who clearly you know who clearly had their country bombed out from under them?
LUKAS: Sure I mean I think a refugee program and asylum seekers are incredible important, but then I take very seriously the potential that we need to make sure that people are being vetted, that you I think that sometimes there's you ever just about every country and around the globe protects their borders and is very careful about who they let in because there are people who want to do our country harm and they know when we have a porous immigration system or where the weaknesses are, so we need to make sure that we're not I'm not allowing our different immigration entries to be to be abused.
ERBE: Now you had a recent article about the ACA or your for your for repealing it right correct?
LUKAS: I'm for healthcare reform. I think they do that our health care system is very imperfect and Obamacare moved us in the wrong direction.
ERBE: And so how would you see it changed without throwing a lot of lower-income people off of it?
LUKAS: Well you know it's important I think to remember what it is that Obama that that the Affordable Care Act Act did. We obviously we often talk about it as though the Affordable Care Act was just for the poor, but its broadest you know the the most sweeping regulations it had or in dictating what every single health insurance policy had to have and that's one reason why you know it very much limited the options for what Americans were allowed to have when it came to health insurance. Once you say I think it's helpful to kind of use an analogy if you said that every single pizza in America had to have salami pepperoni and all the vegetables your pizza will be a lot more expensive there are a lot of people who would say wait I really just wanted to cheese pizza and that's and right now we're all paying for a supreme, and so I think that we were the first thing I would do is to start by trying to roll back some of those regulations so that prices come down so that more people would be able to afford on their own without subsidies more people would enter the health insurance market, and there'd be more freedom and insurances insurance providers could compete- compete for that that's what I think you don't need a safe to be existing conditions the part that requires companies to ensure that.
ERBE: Do you think I think that pre-existing conditions, the part that requires companies to ensure that-
LUKAS: We need to make sure that we have a system for people with preexisting conditions to get the insurance and the healthcare access they need-
ERBE: -but that’s a mandate to insurance companies right?
LUKAS: Well yes and there's other ways to approach that and I know that there's a lot of health care policy experts who look at this and say it's better to provide direct financial subsidies so that those people can afford their insurance even if it's very expensive rather than creating that mandate, so I think it's it's important for people to recognize it's often it seems sounds easy and very you know oh okay well make the companies pay for it and that's that's the way it happens, but when the companies you know there's no such thing as a free lunch that has to come somewhere and that's one of the reasons why health insurance has become so much more expensive it's because there are all these mandates. There's mandates on on insurers that that make that they have to cover those costs which is why the average person's premiums have gone are are going up so much so there's other ways to to solve that problem and that's why I think when we think about all these things about all these issues whether it's it's paid leave or health care, the real key is to target if we're trying if we're trying to help people we should be trying to help those people but without making it so the rest of the market doesn't work because I think it's something that you know I think Americans appreciate is this idea that one of the things the market is good at delivering is really what I want might be very different from what you want. What you need is different than what what somebody else needs, so we need people to be able to express their preferences and not say okay here we go one size fits all which is what the government tends to do when they create a new entitlement program, when they create a mandate on health insurance, it is it's taking away people's ability to be diverse and reflect their individual circumstances or their preferences. So I think getting government out of that and limiting their involvement to helping the poor often with what is justified to help the poor and you say oh you're the poor person has a a pre-existing condition we can all agree that we could help that person but that doesn't mean the government has to to to control every aspect of health insurance from you know soup to nuts that you know that we should solve that problem not remake everything our government in control of everything.
ERBE: Thank you so much Kerry that was very enlightening. That's it for this addition. Please follow me on Twitter and visit our PBS website which is PBS org slash to the contrary and whether you agree or think to the contrary, see you next week.