ELLE Magazine: Meet ELLE'S 2017 Women In Washington

With American political life at peak volatility, these 10 women come armed with intelligence, determination—and, most important, facts. Lots of facts.

JUDY WOODRUFF | Anchor and managing editor, PBS Newshour

Woodruff wears: Dress, Bottega Veneta, $5,750. Her own watch and Arminia Rubinacci earrings. MAX VADUKUL

Watching Judy Woodruff lead NewsHour is like being able to take a deep breath after the information waterboarding that is media consumption, circa 2017. Woodruff's steady mien, substantive interviews, and impeccably nonpartisan reporting take you outside whatever bubble you're in—left or right—and leave you feeling that, even if you don't agree with shifts in public policy, you understand them. "Judy is the gold standard of journalists," says NBC's Andrea Mitchell, one of Woodruff's best friends.

An Army brat, Woodruff was spurred on by her mother, who never finished high school but urged her daughter to put her education and career first. "Diapers and dishes can wait," she would tell Woodruff. "The constant refrain was, 'Get your education; you want to be independent,' " Woodruff says. "She was dependent on my father." Woodruff earned a political science degree from Duke, but opted out of politics after working on Capitol Hill one summer and hearing female colleagues say that the "serious positions" went to men. She decided to try her hand at reporting—scoring a job at a Georgia ABC affiliate, where her interviewer quipped, "How could I not hire somebody with legs like yours?"

Her foot (and leg) in the door, Woodruff quickly made a name for herself as a serious journalist. She went on to cover Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign for NBC and, after his surprise win, was named White House correspondent. In 1993, she made the jump to CNN, where she anchored Inside Politics for 12 years, before leaving to teach and work on documentaries for PBS, eventually taking over NewsHour alongside the late Gwen Ifill in 2013, making them the first female co-anchor team on a network news show.

Few can compete with Woodruff's institutional knowledge of Washington. She has been present when history was made—deeply reporting the 1978 Camp David Accords and witnessing the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. She's interviewed every U.S. president since Carter and most of the high-level advisers who support them.

Even with her front-row seat to the evolution of TV journalism, she says she's struggling to come to terms with the current media landscape. "On one hand, I absolutely believe what I've always believed: The role of the media is to report the facts, to hold [public officials] accountable. That doesn't change, but what can change is the technology," she says, noting that the recent election—with news frequently made and reported over Twitter and other social media outlets—marks the beginning of a "new journalism world."

To compete in that new world, Woodruff believes women must make further inroads into typically male areas of journalism, such as management—"making decisions about hiring, story assignments, and coverage"—and opinion writing. "Those perspectives are critical. We need mothers to speak up, single women, women of different backgrounds, minorities," she says, noting that Ifill's death from uterine cancer last year was not only a personal loss to her family and friends, but the loss of a role model for everyone. "We need more women of color to come along and inspire others."

LISA MURKOWSKI | U.S. Senator, Alaska

Murkowski wears: Dress, Bottega Veneta, $1,990. Her own jewelry. MAX VADUKUL

Lisa Murkowski wears a slim golden bangle around her wrist. It's a replica of the rubber bracelets her campaign passed out for her famed 2010 election, where she lost the Republican primary to a Tea Party candidate and, instead of slinking away in defeat, ran as an independent in a write-in campaign—and won. The bracelets were for people to take into the voting booth to help them spell her name (incorrectly spelled ballots could be contested).

It's fitting that Murkowski would show such grit and determination. Alaska is, after all, the last frontier state left in the country, a place where, she explains, there is no electrical grid in most areas and many residents live off food they hunt. At the same time, Anchorage, where she lives, boasts the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the U.S. "In my sons' elementary school, where I was PTA president, we have 57 different languages spoken at home," she says. The diverse crowd is attracted to the opportunity of a growing state. "In Alaska, people don't question why you're there. They just ask what you can contribute." This is one reason Murkowski introduced, with a bipartisan group of senators, legislation to prevent deportation of DREAMers (undocumented immigrants brought here as children): "We need to make sure there's a positive path forward for them," she says.

Alaska also sits at an interesting environmental cross-point: Much of the state's revenue comes from gas and oil drilling, but it's at ground zero for climate change—and, living in a freezing tundra, its citizens are particularly vulnerable to fuel-price fluctuations. "We've got to have the jobs, but we have a responsibility to the land, and to the people who I answer to, so many of whom still live subsistence lifestyles," she says. "It's the very definition of finding balance."

Early on, Murkowski is shaping up to be one of the few Republican senators willing to not just rubber-stamp President Donald Trump's policies: She's expressed skepticism about the travel ban imposed on seven Muslim countries and voted against his nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos (who was confirmed by a one-vote margin).

"Senator Murkowski exemplifies the ideals that are the foundation of America's strength," says fellow moderate Republican, Maine senator Susan Collins, including "a belief in self-reliance, always tempered with compassion."

RHEA SUH | President, Natural Resources Defense Council

Suh wears: Dress, Diane von Furstenberg, $468. Cuff, Jennifer Fisher, $695. Pumps, Manolo Blahnik, $595. MAX VADUKUL

These are dark times for environmentalists, but Rhea Suh has found herself wearing a lot of red lately. "I'm not going to let the Republican party appropriate patriotism," she says. "Red helps connect me to that, the way the color demonstrates and commands." An assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior under Obama, Suh has an encyclopedic knowledge of the negotiations behind policies such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, which gives her an advantage in fighting the new administration's resistance to the green movement. "I don't think people voted for Trump because they wanted to bring back an America where the rivers were on fire or cities were choking in smog," she says. NRDC and other advocacy groups sued the president in February over his executive order requiring that federal agencies strike two regulations for every one they add, calling the directive unconstitutional and a violation of law forbidding government from acting arbitrarily. "This order imposes a false choice between clean air, clean water, safe food, and other environmental safeguards," Suh says, adding that though the issues have become politicized, all Americans see things like being able to "stick a glass under your faucet and drink the water without fear of being poisoned" as a right, not merely a privilege.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Suh was raised with a strong appreciation for both the natural beauty of the United States and its work ethic: "Because of my parents' struggle and determination to leave everything they knew behind to come to this brand-new world, I've never taken it for granted."

MEIGHAN STONE | Founding President, Malala Fund

Stone wears: Coat, Adam Lippes, $1,790. Necklace, Robert Lee Morris Collection, $3,500. Her own dress. MAX VADUKUL

When Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Peace Prize, at 17, it was international policy expert Meighan Stone who helped the teenager amplify her voice through the eponymous Malala Fund. Yousafzai came to prominence when the Taliban tried to kill her for going to school near her home in Pakistan's Swat Valley, and her foundation is dedicated to ensuring every girl in the world has access to a K-12 education.

On behalf of the fund, Stone has met with everyone from Angela Merkel to refugees near the Syrian border. "There are 130 million girls right now out of school, and I want to see that go to zero in Malala's lifetime," Stone says. "It's a matter of political will—but you saw the Women's March. This can be achieved." With a master's degree in international social welfare policy from Columbia University, Stone has led communications and special projects for Bono's ONE Campaign and the World Food Program USA. She was recently named the Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, where she'll be studying refugee issues. "You walk into a summit on the Syrian refugee crisis, and nobody in the room is from an impacted community," she says. "It's like 'In your name, but without you.' I often find myself being one of the younger women in the room—and I'm not that young!"

As for Yousafzai, she describes Stone as "very close to my heart. Her efforts made it possible for me to stand up with my refugee sisters from Syria and Somalia and empower my sisters in Pakistan and Nigeria through investing in their education."

SARAH CHAMBERLAIN | President and CEO, Republican Main Street Partnership

Chamberlain wears: Dress, Escada, $1,225. Bracelet, David Yurman, $2,400. Pumps, Manolo Blahnik, $595. Her own watch. MAX VADUKUL

Sarah Chamberlain is the majority maker for Republicans in Congress. Because her coalition of more than 70 members of Congress are disproportionately from swing districts, when they lose, it gets harder for the GOP to hang on to the House and Senate. As a result, her members are not "bomb throwers" who want to shut down the government; instead, they look for conservative solutions with bipartisan appeal. "We're the governing wing of the party. We work to move legislation forward. We're not the group that says no, and hell no," she says

Republican California congresswoman Mimi Walters, a friend of Chamberlain's, says the level of engagement she has already fostered is encouraging: "Sarah has been an incredible leader and a powerful resource for women across the country."

DEBRA L. LEE | Chairman and CEO of BET Networks

Lee wears: Dress, Dolce & Gabbana, $4,295. Earrings, David Yurman, $1,950. Cuffs, both, Maison Margiela Line 12 Fine Jewellery Collection, $3,900-$6,500 each. Her own rings. MAX VADUKUL

When Debra L. Lee began her career at BET, it was barely more than a start-up. Lee had been on the path toward becoming a typical Washington legal wonk—with public policy and law degrees from Harvard and a stint clerking for a federal judge under her belt—but was restless, wondering if she missed her calling in the arts. So she jumped at the opportunity to serve as legal counsel for the fledgling broadcaster. "I took on any new responsibilities that were offered to me—I didn't ask about the salary, I just did it," she says, "and the more I learned about the business side, the more I loved it." Her multitasking paid off: When BET's founder, Robert L. Johnson, stepped down in 1996, Lee was named president and COO, and then CEO in 2005. "It wasn't that big a jump. By that time, I'd been pretty much running the company for 10 years; I just wasn't getting credit for it," she says.

She's presided over incredible growth—BET now reaches more than 90 million homes and critics have recently lauded its foray into original scripted programming—and has become one of the most influential businesswomen in the country, serving on the boards of Twitter, Marriott, and Washington Gas, and as president of the board of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She also started the annual Leading Women Defined Summit to bring together prominent African American women from her intersecting circles of business and politics. Lee was a huge supporter of President Obama—"it was a magical eight years," she says—and is troubled by the current landscape. "I've lived in DC for 36 years, and the divisiveness is at a level I've never seen," she says. "It's going to take time for everyone to recover. The media plays a role in shining a light on what's going on, and I take my position and BET's role seriously.

JACQUELYN DAYS SERWER | Chief Curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture

Serwer wears: Dress, Boss, $4,800. Earring, Anissa Kermiche, $502. Cuff, Leigh Miller, $335. Her own rings. MAX VADUKUL

For the past decade, Jacquelyn Days Serwer has been working on a dream: creation of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture—or, as it's come to be known, "The Blacksonian"—currently the hottest ticket in Washington, DC, with admission booked four months in advance. As chief curator, Serwer assembled the museum's art collection, from eighteenth-century pieces by painter Joshua Johnson—the earliest documented professional African American painter—to luminaries like Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, and contemporary artists such as Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, and Whitfield Lovell. It was an experience akin to being a kid in a candy shop. "It continues to be thrilling. Every time I take somebody through the galleries, I'm amazed once again by the depth and breadth of it," she says. "Hopefully it will provide opportunity for a change in terms about the African American experience, and what an American experience it is after all—how it's a shared history."

Previously chief curator of the now-defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Serwer originally planned to become a history professor, but as an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence College, she discovered art history, a mixture of culture, history, and art that she describes as "the best of all possible worlds." (She went on to earn a graduate degree at the University of Chicago and a doctorate at the City University of New York.)

Working at the NMAAHC—which is not only an art museum but also a record of nearly every aspect of African American life going back to the fifteenth century—exposed her to a new world of ideas and connections, she says. The galleries she's put together have a similarly cracked-open vibe. "It's been liberating. We did not segregate self-taught artists and formally trained artists. We mix and match," she says. "Black artists are often left out of groupings in art museums because they don't necessarily fit in the existing categories. We made up our own categories."

ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN | Congresswoman, Florida's 27th District

Ros-Lehtinen wears: Jacket, $398, blouse, $348, both, Elie Tahari. Pants, Banana Republic, $98. Earrings, Aurélie Bidermann, $165. Brooch, Beladora, $5,850. Pumps, Manolo Blahnik, $595. MAX VADUKUL

When Ileana Ros-Lehtinen won her seat 28 years ago, she didn't realize that she was the first Latina elected to Congress until Katie Couric asked her about it on The Today Show. Today, the Republican is the most senior congressperson from her state—so popular even among Democrats that her fellow Floridian in the House, former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has declined to aid the campaigns of Ros-Lehtinen's Dem challengers. Ros-Lehtinen represents a swing district in and around Miami—her voters split their ticket in the recent presidential election, casting ballots for Hillary Clinton and Ros-Lehtinen—and is known for her ability to thread the bipartisan needle. "My district is a microcosm of America: not too conservative, not too liberal," she says. "It's a good reflection of me, because it really reflects how I vote. I just do as honest a job as I can and let the chips fall where they may.

As the mother of a transgender son, she was also one of the first Republicans in Congress to support gay marriage. "I knew it was the right thing to do," she says. "It's good for society to accept kids who are out of the mainstream. It behooves the social fabric of our country."

Ros-Lehtinen has an infectiously sunny disposition—introducing herself to one and all as "Illy" and brushing off anyone too impressed with being around a congressperson with a shrug: "We're a dime a dozen!" Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia says that "Ileana always finds a way to make it fun," no matter whether they're attending to the work of Congress or playing softball. "I've been lucky to call her a good friend."

PATTY MURRAY | U.S. Senator, Washington

Murray wears: Her own clothing and jewelry. MAX VADUKUL

Patty Murray's story of political awakening is like a cartoon superhero's origin story, but without the cosmic rays and spider bites. When, as a preschool teacher, she went to her state capital of Olympia to protest cuts to early childhood education, a legislator told her: "You're just a mom in tennis shoes. Go home." Instead, she marshaled 13,000 other citizens to fight for the program—and won. Not long thereafter, in 1988, she was elected as a Democratic state senator for Washington. And after watching Anita Hill testify about being sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas before an all-male Senate panel in 1991, Murray decided DC needed more women and launched a come-from-behind campaign for Senate—and won again. Now in her fifth term, Murray is known for her quiet persistence and ability to get things done by "inclusion and persuasion, not intimidation and threats," as Senator Angus King of Maine has put it. It's a style Murray herself credits to her days teaching toddlers: "It's my turn to talk. Let's listen with our ears. It's time to put our heads down."

But she's no pushover. "She has proven she knows how to fight," says Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, ticking off a list of issues for which Murray is known as a crusader, including budget negotiations and women's health. She's "guided by a deep, personal understanding of the economic reality Americans face," adds EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock, a sensibility informed by the fact that Murray's World War II vet father became so disabled by multiple sclerosis that the family had to go on food stamps for a time. (Her mother eventually put herself through college, as did Patty and her six siblings.)

On reproductive rights, Murray says the current situation is grim, though she sees a glimmer of opportunity. "A number of politicians in the Senate and House have always voted against women's rights because it was easy. They knew they were going to lose. Now they have to stand up and say, 'If we win and this gets implemented, what will it mean to the lives of women I know and love and the people I represent?' " Likewise, some female voters have ignored their own rights at the ballot box because they didn't feel truly threatened, she says. "Now [antichoice politicians] can really do this. Stand up! Be loud! Not speaking out feels like a safe place to be, but it's not a safe place to be today."

KATY TUR | Correspondent, NBC News

Tur wears: Jacket, Altuzarra, $1,795. Dress, Milly, $535. Earrings, Sarah Hendler, $3,780. Necklace, David Yurman, $1,900. Ring, Marion Vidal, $485. Pumps, Jimmy Choo, $595. MAX VADUKUL

Katy Tur was assigned to the Donald Trump beat in June 2015 almost by chance. Working out of London, she was briefly in New York City when the then–reality-TV star descended his golden escalator to announce that he was running for president. Since Tur was a free hand, she was sent to cover him. A six-week stint on the campaign trail turned into a year-and-a-half of living out of a suitcase, surviving on Cheez-Its, and appearing on TV nearly daily: "You can track my coverage. Early on, my hair was nicely curled; I had a smooth line to my eyeliner. As it went on, my hair was barely combed." She packed "the same J.Crew sweater in 12 colors," she says, relying on her cameraman to use lighting to compensate for everything else.

Tur grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of helicopter reporters—her father was the pilot and her mother hung out of the chopper with a camera—and she'd done a stint as a storm chaser but had no real background in political reporting. "I was an outsider covering the outsider. I wasn't ingrained in Washington-speak," she says, which proved a boon: "I didn't write him off. I was taking him more seriously, from the start, than everyone else was."

Trump has a notoriously combative relationship with the press, and Tur's dogged reporting earned her special opprobrium: "Little Katy," as Trump called her, was "dishonest," "incompetent," and a "third-rate reporter." He demanded she be fired. At one point she was assigned a Secret Service detail to escort her out of a rally, but Tur says his vitriol did not sway her coverage. "I'm a natural compartmentalizer. I'm sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with the inner workings of my mind, but it was more about what he said than how he made me feel. The press is not [his] spokesperson. We're the guardians of the truth." She's writing a book about her experience on the campaign trail, titled Unbelievable, due out this fall, and is continuing to cover the White House as anchor of MSNBC's 2 p.m. hour, assigned to home in on the conflicts between his business dealings and international relations. "There's a lot to cover. It's daunting but it's exciting," she says. "If [journalists] stick to the facts and avoid the catnip of entertainment news, there's a way to redeem our credibility—and I hope we do it."

By:  Rachael Combe
Source: ELLE Magazine