Problematic Women: How Rep. Debbie Lesko Is Fighting for the Rights of All Women

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Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., is a powerful voice for conservative women across America.

Lesko, the only female member of the House Freedom Caucus, joins “Problematic Women” to explain how she is working to defend women’s sports from the agenda of radical LGBTQ groups.

Lesko also shares her own journey into the pro-life movement and why she fights to protect the lives of the unborn. 

Plus, Kelsey Bolar, a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum, joins the show to discuss the attacks on federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, why progressives are threatened by her nomination to the Supreme Court, and what we can expect during the Senate confirmation hearings.

And as always, we’ll be crowning our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

Lauren Evans: Welcome back to the show. We are joined by Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona. Representative Lesko, thank you so much for being on the show.

Rep. Debbie Lesko: Thanks for having me. It’s exciting.

Evans: … If you look up “problematic woman” in the dictionary—when, eventually, it’ll be in there—your face, I think, would be right underneath it.

Lesko: I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Virginia Allen: It’s good. It’s definitely good.

Evans: So how did you first gain an interest in policy and what led you to want to run for Congress?

Lesko: Wow. This was a long journey and I’ve come a long way.

So, I used to be married to an abusive ex-husband who threatened my life multiple times and so, thankfully, I left that relationship and married a great new husband who I’ve been married to for a long time and had more children.

But it was rough. It was rough along the way. The last thing on my mind was being a congresswoman, I’ll tell you that. I was just trying to make a living and support my young daughter because I was a single mom.

So, one thing led to the other. I started getting involved in my kids’ schools. Then I started getting involved in my city as a volunteer community worker. Then I started getting involved in the Republican Party as a volunteer, and before you know it, I was elected an officer of the district, then the county, then the state, and then an opening came up in the state House of Representatives in Arizona and people suggested I run.

So I ran and I won, served there six years, got into a leadership position and chair of Ways and Means Committee, then went over to the state Senate, got into leadership, and I was going to run for Senate president.

And then all of a sudden, my congressman resigned. People encouraged me to run for Congress and here I am. Now I’m flying on Air Force One and was one of eight members in the U.S. House of Representatives to serve on President [Donald] Trump’s impeachment defense team. So life is good and God has blessed me.

Allen: Wow. Amen. I love that. … I think it’s just so special to hear someone’s personal story and how you come from these wild circumstances and then where you are now. It’s just really awesome to see all the different seasons of life that as women we can experience and go through.

Within Congress, you serve on a number of different committees and caucuses, including the House Freedom Caucus. Can you just tell us a little bit about the work of the House Freedom Caucus?

Lesko: Sure. I’m the only woman in it. So, hey, good thing at least one woman is a representative in it. It’s a good caucus. It goes more in-depth into legislation, which I find very valuable.

To me, I want to learn everything about different pieces of legislation. So I go to the conference meetings and learn about it there and of course, my staff teaches me or guides me on what the legislation does, but I like hearing all different perspectives. And the Freedom Caucus is very much for conservative fiscal values, conservative social values, and free markets, and so it’s a good group to belong to.

Evans: Well, Rep. Lesko, I’m such a fan of the House Freedom Caucus and I get to cover them with The Daily Signal a lot. When Virginia told me about this interview, my first gut was, I want to break down why are you the only woman on the House Freedom Caucus? Why don’t women value these principles and think about economics just as much as the soft issues, such as abortion and things like that?

Lesko: I don’t know why I’m the only woman, but I imagine it’s a factor—there’s only 13 voting Republican women in the entire U.S. Congress, right? So it’s all about numbers, I think. And also, it’s hard. It’s hard to raise money when you’re in the Freedom Caucus.

So when I first got here, I had committed to being a member of the Freedom Caucus before, back to the primary, Republican special election primary, because all of the Republicans of Arizona are members of the Freedom Caucus, right? And my predecessor was a member of the Freedom Caucus and I believed in it.

But it was tough. I got some from other Republican members that weren’t really excited about the Freedom Caucus. They gave me a glaring eye and wondered, “What is this lady all about?” And also, it was hard to get donor money, quite frankly.

So I guess the reason that there aren’t more women in it is because there are only 13 of us, right? But I hear that we’re going to have more women members very soon after the election. So it’s good to have some more women in the group.

Allen: You also co-chair the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. Women’s issues tend to be some of the most contentious, I think, at times. So what is it like representing the female conservative perspective on that committee?

Lesko: Well, I’m totally outnumbered, I’m the Republican co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. And usually, when we go to meetings there’s maybe 30 Democrat women in the room and sometimes I’m the only Republican woman because of the scheduling and there’s only 13 Republican women in Congress, right?

So sometimes they have really liberal issues that I totally don’t agree with, but I sit through them and bite my tongue sometimes and listen. I try to have an open mind. But other times, I can agree with them.

I would say that I am pretty good friends with the co-chair, Brenda Lawrence, and she introduced me to Karen Bass. We went out to dinner one time and Karen Bass serves on the Judiciary Committee.

So those relationships have gotten me to do bipartisan legislation with Karen Bass. We just introduced one that passed out of Judiciary Committee that protects pregnant women that are incarcerated. And I’m a pro-life woman, so to me that was a win-win.

Evans: One of the biggest issues right now for women is women’s sports, the transgender issue where men who are biologically men now identify as women and want to play sports with people who are biologically women.

You have a bill called the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. Can you let us know what that will do if passed and what the trajectory of that looks like?

Lesko: Yes. Thank you so much for bringing that up. My bill, which I co-sponsored, will basically protect women and girls.

Women and girls have fought so long for rights and the Democrats are really pushing to prioritize transgenders. So their Equality Act, which they passed through the U.S. House of Representatives, which I voted no on and was quite vocally against, it’s called the Equality Act—sounds good, right? But it’s not equal.

It’s giving priority to transgenders and saying, OK, let’s say you’re a teenage girl. You’re a minor, right? And you think all of a sudden, you wake up one day and say, “You know what? I really feel like a guy and I want to get a mastectomy or I want to get hormone therapy.” Their bill actually prevents the parents from stepping in for their minor child and saying no.

The parents could actually be reported to child protective custody just for stepping up and trying to protect their daughter from this radical agenda, that she may change her mind.

And so this is another thing that was in the Equality Act. The Equality Act that the Democrats pushed through the U.S. House of Representatives basically said, “Under mandate of federal law, schools, organizations, churches, any public organization has to take in biological males that still have male body parts and if they say they’re a woman that particular moment and they relate to a girl or they say they’re a girl, they have to be allowed into girls and women’s sports.

That’s wrong. That’s discriminatory against women and girls. It prioritizes transgenders over women and girls. I think it’s wrong and that’s why I stood up to fight against it.

Allen: Why is this issue so critical beyond, let’s say, just high school girls that obviously want to compete fairly? How does this issue truly affect all Americans?

Lesko: In the Democrats’ version of the Equality Act, which they pushed through the U.S. House of Representatives and I voted against and I was vocally against it, it enshrines into law, enforces under government federal law for organizations to put biological men in the same shower as girls and women if they say that they happen to feel like a girl that day or they identify as a woman or a girl.

Under mandate of federal law, it says that domestic violence shelters have to take in biological males. And some of these domestic violence shelters don’t have separate facilities for guys and women. So this is just wrong. This is discriminatory against women.

Quite frankly, this is a subject that is uncomfortable for a lot of people. It’s uncomfortable for Republicans to talk about, but I’m going to talk about it and I talk about it in business groups, too.

So let’s say I have different trade organizations. First, I talk about their subject and then I bring this up and it’s uncomfortable to them, but I bring it up and I say, “This is going to affect you because you’re going to be put as an employer in these uncomfortable positions where you’re going to have a woman that says this isn’t right, but the federal law says you can’t do anything about it because you have to accept a biological male who identifies as a woman and put them right in next to a woman,” or whatever.

This is just wrong, especially the part where it says that parents can’t even have a say over their minor child if the minor child just decides, “You know what? I feel like the opposite sex and I want a surgery to change my sex,” and they’re a minor. This is craziness.

Evans: Wow. That is. … What has this world come to? What’s going to be next?

Lesko: That’s why I stand up and fight. There’s too many people uncomfortable about talking about it, quite frankly. And so, I’m on the Judiciary Committee, I’m on the Rules Committee. I’m the woman here that’s willing to speak up about it, so I’m the one that speaks out about it because somebody has to.

Evans: You know, Rep. Lesko, I think we have a lot of problematic listeners who definitely appreciate and value you standing up. Another issue that we know you’re very passionate about is being a pro-life voice in Washington. Where does that passion come from?

Lesko: Oh man, because I was lied to. I wasn’t always pro-life. I was, if you call it, the left calls it “pro-choice.” I call it “for abortion,” I guess, or “anti-life,” but I used to be like that, so I can relate to it.

I was lied to by Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood said, “Oh, it’s just a clump of cells.” I think they said it looked like a tadpole.

It was actually when I got involved in the Republican Party and there was a woman in the Arizona Republican Party who was very pro-life and then I volunteered to register voters at the Arizona State Fair and there was a booth very close to our Arizona Republican Party booth that was Arizona Right to Life. And it had little miniatures of fetuses inside the womb. And I was like, “That’s not a clump of cells. Those are little babies.” And so I was converted.

I was converted. I was like, “They lied to me.” And so now I’m very vocal about this because it’s wrong and Planned Parenthood continues to lie.

Do you know that the chairman of the Arizona Planned Parenthood political action committee just recently put out a tweet? It was outrageous.

In Arizona, we put out a Blue Alert. The Department of Public Safety, which is law enforcement, state law enforcement, put out a Blue Alert because a law enforcement officer was attacked in Phoenix. And this Planned Parenthood chairman put out a tweet, “F the whole word, F Blue Alert, your Blue Alert.”

What is wrong with these people? Not only do they want to kill innocent babies—we have gone on the floor, Republicans have gone on the floor, including me, asking for a motion to say, “OK, if a baby is born alive because the abortion didn’t work, it was a botched abortion, the baby was born alive, you need to give medical care to the baby.” It’s called the Born-Alive Act. The Democrats will not hear the bill.

So now they’re not only for killing innocent babies in the womb, they want to let babies that are born alive from a botched abortion die. Now this chairman in Arizona is going after law enforcement and thinks it’s totally fine to kill law enforcement officers. This is insane. These people have to be stopped.

Allen: It is insane. It makes zero sense. The logic doesn’t follow. But I am thankful for the fact that, representative, like yourself, it seems like more and more Americans are having that revelation of waking up to the fact that an unborn child is a life and is deserving of life, but it still seems like overall, we need a cultural shift to where we as a society can get to a point where we say an unborn child has rights, mainly the right to life.

What do you think needs to happen in America for us as a society to be able to say that, that an unborn baby deserves the right to life?

Lesko: President Trump has been so vocal about protecting life and enacting rules and regulations that protect life. People have said over and over again that he is the most pro-life president in modern history.

Also, because he is about to nominate the next Supreme Court justice [President Donald Trump nominated U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court Sept. 26], well, this is a huge issue for pro-life issues. We need another conservative justice on the court and this is a great opportunity for pro-life supporters.

Allen: Representative, looking forward, can you tell us about any of the legislation that you’re working on right now that you’re particularly passionate about and really excited to put forth?

Lesko: Boy, there’s a few pieces of legislation I’d really love to put forth. Unfortunately, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans are in the minority, so the Democrats set the entire agenda.

I did a bunch of immigration bills. I’ve introduced a bunch of immigration bills, which are very important for the state of Arizona. In fact, under coronavirus, it’s probably the No. 1 issue in Arizona is that we invite people to come here illegally, but we’re not a big fan, the majority of Arizonans do not believe in illegal immigration.

And … since I’m on Homeland Security Committee and they have authorization over the Border Patrol and over the wall and those type of things, I talked to Customs and Border Protection officials and [Department of Homeland Security] officials and said, “What do you need in order to fix the broken immigration system?

They gave me a list of things, so I introduced bills. Well, they were sent to Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, [Rep.] Jerry Nadler, who is the Democrat chairman, he’s not going to hear them because he doesn’t believe in that. Democrats believe in open borders. So that’s one of the things.

The other thing is to continue to create legislation that grows jobs and the economy. This is a huge difference between Republicans like myself and Democrats who want to raise our taxes and stifle the economy, raise more regulations.

Lesko: Republicans want lower taxes and less regulations and it works. You saw it. President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and we had the greatest economy going until coronavirus hit. Unemployment was at record low levels for everyone, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, everyone, it doesn’t matter what race. And so President Trump and the Republicans are the ones that can get it back to that.

I also want to improve education. I really, really think that our students are falling behind in the United States. We need to up the game. We need to increase the standards. We need to give more flexibility to the states and local governments and we definitely need more school choice.

That’s why I co-sponsored a bill that says the money follows the child. That’s what I believe in. Parents should be able to choose what’s the best education for their child because they know their child best.

Evans: Wow. Well, we could talk all day, Rep. Lesko, but before we let you go, we ask every one of our guests here this question on the show because everybody has such an interesting answer and the question is, do you consider yourself a feminist, why or why not?

Lesko: No. I don’t think I would consider myself a feminist, but I do consider myself someone that believes in women’s rights, women’s and girls’ rights, and that’s why I stand up so strongly against giving transgenders priority over women.

Everyone should be equal. I believe in equal treatment of everyone, not prioritizing one group of people over another group of people. I stand up for women and equal rights, but I don’t want to do it the Democrat way, that’s for sure.

Allen: Rep. Lesko, thank you so much for your time today. We just have loved having you on the show and talking with you and we so appreciate all the work that you’re doing on the Hill and for America.

Lesko: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

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