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TAUSCHER, Ellen O'Kane

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


A female pioneer in the male-dominated 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 Bay Area district, Tauscher specialized in national security issues from her seat on the Armed Services Committee—eventually serving as chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Ellen Tauscher was born Ellen O’Kane in Newark, New Jersey, on November 15, 1951. The daughter of John and Mary O’Kane, a grocery store owner and secretary, she was the eldest of four children. Tauscher earned a bachelor’s degree 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, beginning a 14-year Wall Street career which included serving as an American Stock Exchange officer. In 1989 she married William Tauscher and raised a daughter, Katherine. The couple later divorced. In 1992 Ellen Tauscher founded a company that screened prospective childcare providers. She later authored The Child Care Source Book. She also created the Tauscher Foundation, which donated $200,000 to elementary schools in California and Texas to buy computer equipment. In 1992 and 1994, Tauscher served as the state co-chair for Dianne Feinstein’s successful campaigns to the U.S. Senate. Her later marriage with James Cieslak ended in divorce.1

In 1996 Tauscher challenged incumbent California Republican William P. Baker in a newly created delta district comprising bedroom communities that were known as the most conservative in the Bay Area. “A millionaire former stockbroker and businesswoman, she looked, at first glance, like a Rockefeller Republican,’’ Time magazine wrote. “Her husband was actually a Republican.”2 Tauscher, who wanted to reduce certain government spending she considered wasteful, ran on a platform of gun control, women’s right to abortion, and increased spending on education. In a race with three minor-party candidates, Tauscher won with 49 percent of the vote to Baker’s 47 percent. “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.”3 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.4

When Tauscher took her seat in the 105th Congress (1997–1999), she received assignments on two committees: Science; and Transportation and Infrastructure. Before the end of her first term, Tauscher resigned from the Science Committee for a seat on the National Security Committee (later renamed Armed Services), where she remained, along with her Transportation Committee assignment, for the balance of her career in the House.5

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. (Bill) Clinton administration coordinated NATO air attacks against Serbia for invading Kosovo and oppressing its people—including ethnic cleansing— Tauscher insisted that ground troops be sent.6 In the 108th Congress (2003–2005), Tauscher played a vocal role in the Iraq War; she called for additional troops and equipment, and visited the region four times.7 Her district was the only one in the country with two national defense laboratories— Lawrence Livermore and Sandia/California. And she secured over $200 million in funding for Livermore’s “super laser” project.8

Tauscher also had a prominent role on the Science Committee. The committee had jurisdiction over the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. nuclear weapons program, and Tauscher supported the adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.9 During the markup of a technology bill, Tauscher added an amendment that sought to streamline the review process for when federal agencies and private entities work on sensitive issues involving national security. Although the House-passed bill did not become law, it provided a framework for similar legislation that was signed into law the following Congress.10

And 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.11

Tauscher was a vocal supporter of cutting taxes, especially the “marriage penalty” and the estate tax and voted to override President Clinton’s 2000 veto of an estate tax repeal. She opposed 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.12 Her alternative plan for tax cuts, which were “triggered” only after the government took in surplus revenue, became the Democratic alternative to the $1.6 trillion cut proposed by the GOP.13

In 1998 Time magazine called Tauscher’s legislative style “Tauscherism,” a kind of middle-of-the road politics that blended fiscal conservatism with social liberalism.14 “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.15

In 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed 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 as undersecretary until her resignation on February 6, 2012.16 The following day, she was sworn in as a special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense for the U.S. Department of State.17 Tauscher later worked in several advisory positions in the private sector. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 but defeated it after a two-year battle. Tauscher died of pneumonia on April 29, 2019, in Stanford, California.18


1David Stout, “Ellen Tauscher, Congresswoman and Diplomat, Is Dead at 67,” 1 May 2019, New York Times, obituaries/ellen-tauscher-dead.html; Harrison Smith, “Ellen Tauscher, Former House Democrat and Arms Negotiator under Obama, Dies at 67,” 30 April 2019, Washington Post, ellen-tauscher-former-house-democrat-and-arms-negotiator-under-obamadies-at-67/2019/04/30/0d1d387c-6b52-11e9-a66d-a82d3f3d96d5_story. html; Carla Marinucci, “Former Rep. Tauscher, Arms Negotiator and Wall Street Ground-Breaker, Dies at 67,” 30 April 2019, Politico, https://www.

2Marinucci, “Former Rep. Tauscher, Arms Negotiator and Wall Street GroundBreaker, Dies at 67.”

3Barry Witt, “Race Seen as Bellwether of House Control; District 10 House Race: GOP-DEMO Bellwether,” 16 October 1996, San Jose Mercury News (CA): 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.

4Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

5Congressional Record, House, 105th Cong., 2nd sess. (24 June 1998): H5252; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, "Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present.”

6Christopher Heredia, “Tauscher to Urge Ground Troops on Congressional Visit to Balkans,” 7 April 1999, San Francisco Chronicle: A22.

7Stout, “Ellen Tausher, Congresswoman and Diplomat, Is Dead at 67.”

8Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, PL 106-398, 114 Stat. 1654 (2000); James Glanz, “Steep Budget Rise Saves Project to Use Lasers for Nuclear Tests,” 5 October 2000 New York Times: A24.

9A resolution expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Senate should act swiftly and expeditiously to give its advice and consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, H. Res. 241, 105th Cong. (1997).

10Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 1998, H.R. 2544, 105th Cong, (1997); Bill Loveless, “Lawmaker Seeks Broad Review of Contentious Partnerships,” 26 March 1998, Federal Technology Report; Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000, PL 106-404, 114 Stat. 1742 (2000).

11Smith, “Ellen Tauscher, Former House Democrat and Arms Negotiator under Obama, Dies at 67”; Stout, “Ellen Tausher, Congresswoman and Diplomat, Is Dead at 67”; Marinucci, “Former Rep. Tauscher, Arms Negotiator and Wall Street Ground-Breaker, Dies at 67”; Alejandra Reyes-Velarde and Stuart Leavenworth, “Former U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Who ‘Broke the Mold Again and Again,’ Dies at 67,” 30 April 2019, Los Angeles Times, https://www.

12Politics in America, 2002 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2001): 85; Stout, “Ellen Tauscher, Congresswoman and Diplomat, Is Dead at 67.”

13Marc Sandalow, “Ellen Tauscher: Movin’ on Up,” 1 March 2001, California Journal: 40.

14Peter Beinart, “Why the Center Can’t Hold,” 24 November 1997, Time: 52; Mary Anne Ostrom, “Tauscher Typifies Demos’ Visions,” 31 March 1998, Mercury News (San Jose, CA): 1A.

15Marinucci, “Former Rep. Tauscher, Arms Negotiator and Wall Street GroundBreaker, Dies at 67”; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

16Stout, “Ellen Tausher, Congresswoman and Diplomat, Is Dead at 67.”

17Smith, “Ellen Tauscher, Former House Democrat and Arms Negotiator under Obama, Dies at 67.”

18Smith, “Ellen Tauscher, Former House Democrat and Arms Negotiator under Obama, Dies at 67”; Stout, “Ellen Tausher, Congresswoman and Diplomat, Is Dead at 67.”

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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