In 2010 Republican Diane Black flipped a longtime Democratic seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to help the GOP win the House majority. With her career as a nurse and her budget experience in the Tennessee state legislature, Black quickly became an influential voice in national discussions about health care, taxes, and the economy. In the 115th Congress (2017–2019), she became the first woman in congressional history to chair the House Budget Committee. “In [nursing] school, we are trained right from the very beginning that we always go back and look at the root cause,” she said. “I’ve used that methodology in my policymaking. I look at a problem and look at the root cause.”1
Diane Black was born Diane Warren on January 16, 1951, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Audrey and Joseph Warren. She and her three siblings lived in Baltimore public housing with their parents until the family moved to the Maryland suburbs.2 She graduated from Andover High School in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.3 The first in her family to go to college, Black earned an associate’s degree in nursing from Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland, in 1971. And in 1992, she graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.4 Black and her first husband divorced in 1977. In 1980 she married Dave Black, a veteran who adopted her three children and later started a forensic chemical lab.5
Diane Black worked as a nurse and a nonprofit fundraiser before seeking elective office. From 1999 to 2005, she served in the Tennessee state house of representatives before moving to the state senate where she served until 2010. In the Tennessee legislature, she worked to balance the state budget and advocated for long-term health care for senior citizens. Black kept her nursing license current throughout her political career, helping her stay up to date on health care issues.6
In December 2009, when 13-term Democrat Bart Jennings Gordon announced his retirement from the U.S. House, Black declared her candidacy for the seat. The middle Tennessee district, based in Nashville’s suburbs, had seen its population grow in recent years.7 Most agricultural operations in the district had given way to the automotive industry; Middle Tennessee State University was also a major employer.8
During the campaign, Black touted her experiences as a nurse and legislator, telling voters she was ready to reform the health care system and federal spending. “I have seen our balanced budget requirement work in the state legislature, and it will work in Congress—forcing the legislative body to make choices naturally produces more sound fiscal outcomes,” she said.9 After a “bruising eight-month, three-way dogfight,” as a newspaper described it, Black won the Republican primary by a narrow margin and faced Democrat Brett Carter, a lawyer and Iraq War veteran, in the general election. Calling the 2010 election a “historic opportunity to return to conservative principles,” Black ran on her legislative experience and won easily in November with 67 percent of the vote.10 Her victory was part of a larger movement across the country: Republicans won control of state governments and flipped more than 60 seats in the House, capturing the majority which they held for the next eight years.11
Black, who preferred to be addressed as Congressman rather than Congresswoman, was one of nine first-term Republican women in the 112th Congress (2011–2013).12 But she was the only one to win a seat on the powerful and prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which writes America’s tax laws. Given her budgetary work in the Tennessee legislature, she was also assigned to the influential House Budget Committee.13 On the campaign side, Black held a leadership position in the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which works to elect Republicans.14 In 2013 she helped create an initiative called Project GROW (Growing Republican Opportunities for Women) as part of an NRCC effort to recruit female Republican candidates for the House.15
From her seat on Ways and Means, Black supported comprehensive tax reform, including lower rates and fewer income brackets. In the 113th Congress (2013–2015), she led the Ways and Means Committee’s Education and Tax Reform Working Group, which produced the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act. Black’s bill, which aimed to make higher education more affordable by providing tax credits, passed the House in July 2014.16
Black also used her Ways and Means seat to work on health care policy. In 2011 she introduced H.R. 2576 which modified the requirements for individuals to receive Medicaid. It passed the House in November and became law later that month as part of a large tax bill.17 In September 2013, the House passed a bill Black introduced which required the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a program to verify insurance coverage and household income before people could take advantage of insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The language in Black’s bill was later replaced in its entirety by the Senate with a funding agreement that re-opened the government and increased the debt limit after a two-week shutdown. Because Black opposed the debt limit increase, she voted against the appropriations bill even though she technically remained the bill’s original sponsor.18
Similar to her work on Ways and Means, Black worked to overhaul federal spending levels on the Budget Committee.19 During her first term, she led a group of freshmen lawmakers in asking President Barack Obama to create a federal budget which reduced the debt before raising the debt ceiling.20 In 2013 she supported the No Budget, No Pay Act, which withholds pay from Members in the event that they fail to pass a budget on time.21 The bill became law in February 2013.22
In 2017 President Donald J. Trump chose House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. In turn, Republican House leadership named Black the new chair of the Budget Committee. She was the first woman to lead the Budget Committee in House history, and one of three GOP women who led full committees in the 115th Congress.23 As chair, Black continued to focus on lowering the national debt and creating a balanced budget. In December 2017, she resigned as chair to campaign for governor of Tennessee.24
As women spoke out about sexual harassment and assault in workplaces across the country as part of the #MeToo Movement, reports showed that Members of Congress had used public funds to settle harassment cases and lawsuits. “If I had known that, oh my gosh, I would have jumped right on that and said that is wrong and we cannot do that,” Black said in 2017.25 Black pointed to her own experiences with sexual harassment in the “Good Ol’ Boy culture” of the Tennessee legislature and described an uncomfortable moment with a colleague in 1998.26 She joined others in Congress advocating for transparency when elected officials are involved in harassment cases. “I firmly believe now what I believed then,” she added. “As elected officials, we are public servants and must be held to the highest of standards.”27
Throughout her career, Black easily won re-election to the House, usually taking 70 percent or more of the vote.28 In August 2017, Black announced she would seek the Tennessee governorship the next year.29 Despite wide name recognition and endorsements from Vice President Mike Pence and the National Rifle Association, Black lost the Republican primary to businessman Bill Lee, taking 23 percent of the vote to Lee’s 37 percent.30
1Joel Ebert, “Diane Black Says Her Aim Is To ‘Protect Our Tennessee Values,’” 9 July 2018, Tennessean (Nashville): A6.
2Brad Schmitt, “Diane Black Was Lovingly Pushed Out of Poverty,” 10 September 2015, Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2015/09/10/diane-black-lovingly-pushed-out-poverty/71867776/.
3Rick Hutzell, “Arundel Politics: Anne Arundel’s Member of Congress—in Tennessee,” 2 July 2014, Capital Gazette (Annapolis, MD), https://www.capitalgazette.com/cg2-arc-ae2b4e97-67ef-5927-a559-8c3c5f94bd0b-20140702-story,amp.html.
4Schmitt, “Diane Black Was Lovingly Pushed Out of Poverty.”
5Stephanie Booth, “11 Years Later, We Finally Made Our Missed Connection,” 13 January 2016, Good Housekeeping, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a36418/missed-connection-love-story-dave-diane-black/; Ebert, “Diane Black Says Her Aim Is To ‘Protect Our Tennessee Values.”
6Eric Miller, “6th District: Black Wants to Put Government Back on Course,” 13 October 2010, Tennessean: n.p.
7Eric Miller, “Congressional Candidates Build War Chests,” 6 February 2010, Tennessean: n.p.; John McArdle, “Gordon Retirement Sparks Tennessee Scramble,” 15 December 2009, Roll Call: n.p.
8Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 1503–1504.
9Michael Cass, “Diane Black Picks Up Narrow Win,” 6 August 2010, Tennessean: n.p.; “Primary Results: Tennessee,” 10 December 2010, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2010/results/primaries/tennessee.html; Eric Miller, “Gallatin’s Black, Carter Win Nominations for 6th District Congressional Race,” 6 August 2010, Tennessean: n.p.
10Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
11Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Majority Changes in the House of Representatives, 1856 to Present.”
12Micaela Freeman, “Q&A: GOP Candidate for Governor Diane Black,” 4 June 2018, The Daily Herald (Columbia, TN), https://www.columbiadailyherald.com/news/20180604/qa-gop-candidate-for-governor-diane-black; Jessica Brady, “Black is Polished Veteran Among GOP Newbies,” 23 May 2011, Roll Call: n.p.
13Bill Theobald, “Committee Assignments Give State a Stronger Voice on Range of Issues,” 28 January 2011, Gannett News Service.
14Jessica Brady, “Groups Seek 2012 Repeat of ‘Year of the Woman,’” 8 March 2011, Roll Call: n.p.
15“NRCC Announces New Women’s Initiative: Project GROW,” official website of the National Republican Congressional Committee, 28 June 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130701011841/http://www.nrcc.org/2013/06/28/nrcc-announces-new-womens-initiative-project-grow/; Dave Boucher, “Blackburn, Black Still Backing Trump,” 11 October 2016, Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, TN): A2.
16“House Passes Congressman Black’s Legislation to Make Tax Code Simpler for Students and Families,” official website of Representative Diane Black, press release, 24 July 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20140725021756/http://black.house.gov/press-release/house-passes-congressman-black%E2%80%99s-legislation-make-tax-code-simpler-students-and; Lori Montgomery, “Dave Camp Drops a Tax Reform Bill on His Way Out the Door,” 24 December 2014, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/dave-camp-drops-a-tax-reform-bill-on-his-way-out-the-door/2014/12/23/ec9cb998-863a-11e4-b9b7-b8632ae73d25_story.html; David Welna, “Rep. David Camp Releases Tax Overhaul Plan,” 26 February 2014, National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/2014/02/26/283044335/rep-david-camp-releases-tax-overhaul-plan; “Black Statement on Chairman Camp’s Tax Reform Proposal,” official website of Representative Diane Black, press release, 26 February 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20140725114647/http://black.house.gov/press-release/black-statement-chairman-camp%E2%80%99s-tax-reform-proposal.
17Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 909; H.R. 2576, 112th Cong. (2011); Withholding Tax Relief Act, PL 112-56, 125 Stat. 711 (2011).
18Paul C. Barton, “Black Faces Challenge Over Key Spending Vote,” 23 July 2014, Tennessean: 4; H.R. 2775, 113th Cong. (2013); Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, PL 113-6, 127 Stat. 558 (2013).
19Barton, “Black Faces Challenge Over Key Spending Vote.”
20Sam Stockard, “Black Already Making Waves in First Term,” 6 June 2011, Daily News Journal: n.p.
21“Black Applauds Passage of ‘No Budget, No Pay,’” official website of Representative Diane Black, press release, 23 January 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130216141220/http://black.house.gov/press-release/black-applauds-passage-%E2%80%9Cno-budget-no-pay%E2%80%9D.
22No Budget, No Pay Act, PL 113-3, 127 Stat. 51 (2013).
23David Hawkings, “House Republican Women See Boost in Authority,” 18 January 2017, Roll Call: n.p. In the 115th Congress, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina chaired the Committee on Education and Workforce and Susan Brooks of Indiana chaired the Committee on Ethics.
24Kimberly Leonard, “Diane Black Resigns as Budget Committee Chairman for Tennessee Gubernatorial Bid,” 27 December 2017, Washington Examiner: n.p.
25Michael Collins, “Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black Encouraged by Focus on Harassment,” 11 December 2017, Tennessean: A1.
26Michael Collins, “Diane Black: I Was Sexually Harassed in Legislature,” 14 December 2017, Tennessean: A1.
27Collins, “Diane Black: I Was Sexually Harassed in Legislature.”
28“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; Politics in America, 2014: 910.
29Joey Garrison, “Black Crushes Carr,” 5 August 2016, Tennessean: A5; Joey Garrison, Joel Ebert, and Dave Boucher, “Diane Black Announces Run for Governor,” 2 August 2017, Tennessean: A12.
30Joel Ebert, “How Diane Black and Randy Boyd Lost the GOP Nomination,” 6 August 2018, The Leaf Chronicle (Clarksville, TN): A8.