TAUSCHER, Ellen O'Kane

TAUSCHER, Ellen O'Kane
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


A woman pioneer on the New York Stock Exchange, Ellen Tauscher used her Wall Street business experience and negotiating skills to become a prominent Democratic centrist in the U.S. House. Representing a suburban California district east of the Bay Area, Congresswoman Tauscher developed an expertise in national security issues from her seat on the Armed Services Committee—eventually serving as chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Ellen O’Kane was born in Newark, New Jersey, on November 15, 1951. The daughter of a grocery store owner, she earned a B.A. in early childhood education from Seton Hall University in 1974. In her mid–20s, she became one of the first women to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, serving there from 1977 to 1979. During her 14–year Wall Street career she also served as an officer of the American Stock Exchange. In 1989, she married William Tauscher and raised a daughter, Katherine. The couple later divorced. In 1992, Ellen Tauscher founded a service for pre–employment screening of childcare providers. She later authored The Child Care Source Book. She also created the Tauscher Foundation, which donated $200,000 to California and Texas schools to buy computer equipment for elementary education. Tauscher received her first political experience serving as the state co–chair for Dianne Feinstein’s successful 1992 and 1994 Senate campaigns.

In 1996, Tauscher challenged incumbent California Republican Bill Baker in a newly created delta district comprising bedroom communities that are the most conservative in the Bay Area. Tauscher ran on a platform of gun control, women’s right to abortion, and increased spending on education, along with the reduction of wasteful fiscal spending. She narrowly won, with 49 percent to Baker’s 47 percent, in a race with three minor–party candidates. “My message throughout this campaign was one of moderation and common sense,” Tauscher declared afterwards. “I want to go back to Washington and stand in the middle…where most Americans stand.”1 In the next two elections, Tauscher won slightly more comfortable margins over GOP candidates, defeating Charles Ball 53 to 43 percent and Claude Hutchison 52 to 44 percent.2

When Tauscher took her seat in the 105th Congress (1997–1999), she received assignments on three committees: National Security (later renamed Armed Services), Science, and Transportation and Infrastructure. In the 106th Congress (1999–2001), Tauscher resigned her Science Committee seat to focus on her two other assignments, where she remained for the balance of her career in the House.

Tauscher’s committee assignments provided her a national platform from which she also was able to serve district needs. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Tauscher outlined an activist role for America in the international arena. In the spring of 1999, when the William J. Clinton administration coordinated NATO air attacks against Serbia for its invasion of Kosovo and “ethnic cleansing” of the populace, Tauscher insisted that ground troops be sent.3 In the 108th Congress (2003–2005), Tauscher played a vocal role in the Iraq War, calling for additional troops and equipment, and visiting the region four times. Her district was the only one which holds two national defense laboratories—Lawrence Livermore and Sandia/California. She secured nearly $200 million in funding for Livermore’s “super laser” project. Tauscher also had a prominent role as the senior Democrat on the congressional panel overseeing the National Nuclear Security Administration, which managed the U.S. nuclear weapons program. From her seat on Transportation and Infrastructure, Tauscher steered federal funding to improve the Bay Area’s badly strained transportation systems, including $33 million for projects in her district.

Tauscher was a vocal supporter of cutting taxes, especially the “marriage penalty” and the estate tax, and she voted to override President Clinton’s 2000 veto of an estate tax repeal. She did not support Republican proposals in the 106th Congress to slash taxes by almost $800 billion and also opposed the 2001 tax cut proposed by the George W. Bush administration and passed by Congress.4 Her alternative plan of tax cuts, “triggered” only after surplus money was confirmed, became the Democratic alternative to the $1.6 trillion cut proposed by the GOP.5

In 1998, Time magazine dubbed her moderate Democratic approach to politics “Tauscherism,” a kind of middle–of–the road politics that blended fiscal conservatism with social liberalism.6 “Tauscherism” also reflected the political realities of her suburban district which, until reapportionment in 2002, was more Republican than Democratic. When the lines were redrawn by the California legislature, Tauscher easily won election to a fourth term, with 75 percent of the vote against Libertarian candidate Sonia Harden. In 2004, Tauscher won re–election with 66 percent of the vote against Republican Jeff Ketelson. In 2006 and 2008, voters returned her to office with 66 and 65 percent of the vote, respectively.7

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed Representative Tauscher Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Upon her confirmation by the Senate, Tauscher resigned her House seat on June 26, 2009. Tauscher served in this position until her resignation on February 6, 2012. The following day, she was sworn in as a special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense for the U.S. Department of State. Tauscher also worked in a number of advisory positions in the private sector. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and died on April 29, 2019, in Stanford, California.


1Barry Witt, “Race Seen as Bellwether of House Control; District 10 House Race: GOP–DEMO Bellwether,” 16 October 1996, San Jose Mercury News: 1A; John Wildermuth and Jim Doyle, “Tauscher Beats Baker in an Upset; Big Bay Area Surprise in Race for Congress,” 7 November 1996, San Francisco Chronicle: A17; Erin Hallissy, “East Bay Congressman Focuses on Rival’s Wealth; Ads Claim Challenger Is Trying to Buy Seat,” 1 October 1996, San Francisco Chronicle: A1.

2“Elections Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

3Christopher Heredia, “Tauscher to Urge Ground Troops on Congressional Visit to Balkans,” 7 April 1999, San Francisco Chronicle: A22.

4Politics in America, 2002 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2001): 85.

5Marc Sandalow, “Ellen Tauscher: Movin’ on Up,” 1 March 2001, California Journal.

6Peter Beinart, “Why the Center Can’t Hold,” 24 November 1997, Time; online at http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1101971124–136899,00.html (accessed 7 December 2004); Mary Anne Ostrom, “Tauscher Typifies Demos’ Visions,” 31 March 1998, Mercury News: 1A.

7“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

California State University, East Bay
University Archives

Hayward, CA
Papers: 1996-2009, 144.45 cubic feet. The collection documents Ellen O. Tauscher’s tenure as a member of the United States’ House of Representatives. The collection covers her work as a Representative from the 10th Congressional District of California. The current open portion of the collection contains newspaper clippings about Tauscher’s work, various awards and memorabilia, and photographic media. A finding aid is available in the repository and online.

Columbia University
Rare Book and Manuscript Library

New York, NY
Papers: In the Arthur Levitt Papers, 1948-2001, 26 linear feet. Persons represented include Ellen Tauscher.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Ellen O'Kane Tauscher" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

Tauscher, Ellen O. with Kathleen Candy. The Childcare Sourcebook: The Complete Guide to Finding and Managing Nannies, Au Pairs, Babysitters, Day Care, and After-school Programs. New York: Macmillan, 1996.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
    • Strategic Forces - Chair
  • House Committee - National Security
  • House Committee - Science
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
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