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Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues is a bipartisan membership organization within the House of Representatives committed to advancing women's interests in Congress.[1] It was founded by fifteen Congresswomen on April 19, 1977, and was originally known as the Congresswomen's Caucus. [2] Its founding co-chairs were Representatives Elizabeth Holtzman (N.Y.-Dem.) and Margaret Heckler (Mass.-Rep.).[3] In 1981, men were invited to join and the name of the organization was therefore changed to the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues.[4] However, in January 1995, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate funding for offices and staff of caucus organizations on Capitol Hill; therefore, the Congresswomen reorganized themselves into a Members' organization.[4] It is still called the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, but men no longer belong to it.[4] Today its membership consists of all women in the U.S. House of Representatives.[3]

Electoral participation data indicates that for more than 50 years, women have been voting in larger numbers than men.[1] The CCWI was intended to address descriptive representation. With such few women in Congress, the legislative agenda was not representative of the wants and needs of female constituents. It was also a concern that the female representatives faced issues that wouldn't be addressed by the party organizations already established within Congress.[1]

In 1990, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues inspired a House resolution to honor long-time Caucus Secretary Lindy Boggs by naming the room the caucus met in the Corrine "Lindy" Boggs Congressional Women's Reading Room, which it is known as today.[4][5] It had previously been known as the Congresswomen's Reading Room.[4]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Congressional Elections: Crash Course Government and Politics #6


Hi, I'm Craig and this is Crash Course Government and Politics, and today we're going to talk about what is, if you ask the general public, the most important part of politics: elections. If you ask me, it's hair styles. Look at Martin Van Buren's sideburns, how could he not be elected? Americans are kind of obsessed with elections, I mean when this was being recorded in early 2015, television, news and the internet were already talking about who would be Democrat and Republican candidates for president in 2016. And many of the candidates have unofficially been campaigning for years. I've been campaigning; your grandma's been campaigning. Presidential elections are exciting and you can gamble on them. Is that legal, can you gamble on them, Stan? Anyway, why we're so obsessed with them is a topic for another day. Right now I'm gonna tell you that the fixation on the presidential elections is wrong, but not because the president doesn't matter. No, today we're gonna look at the elections of the people that are supposed to matter the most, Congress. Constitutionally at least, Congress is the most important branch of government because it is the one that is supposed to be the most responsive to the people. One of the main reasons it's so responsive, at least in theory, is the frequency of elections. If a politician has to run for office often, he or she, because unlike the president we have women serving in Congress, kind of has to pay attention to what the constituents want, a little bit, maybe. By now, I'm sure that most of you have memorized the Constitution, so you recognize that despite their importance in the way we discuss politics, elections aren't really a big feature of the Constitution. Except of course for the ridiculously complex electoral college system for choosing the president, which we don't even want to think about for a few episodes. In fact, here's what the Constitution says about Congressional Elections in Article 1 Section 2: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature." So the Constitution does establish that the whole of the house is up for election every 2 years, and 1/3 of the senate is too, but mainly it leaves the scheduling and rules of elections up to the states. The actual rules of elections, like when the polls are open and where they actually are, as well as the registration requirements, are pretty much up to the states, subject to some federal election law. If you really want to know the rules in your state, I'm sure that someone at the Board of Elections, will be happy to explain them to you. Really, you should give them a call; they're very, very lonely. In general though, here's what we can say about American elections. First stating the super obvious, in order to serve in congress, you need to win an election. In the House of Representatives, each election district chooses a single representative, which is why we call them single-member districts. The number of districts is determined by the Census, which happens every 10 years, and which means that elections ending in zeros are super important, for reasons that I'll explain in greater detail in a future episode. It's because of gerrymandering. The Senate is much easier to figure out because both of the state Senators are elected by the entire state. It's as if the state itself were a single district, which is true for states like Wyoming, which are so unpopulated as to have only 1 representative. Sometimes these elections are called at large elections. Before the election ever happens, you need candidates. How candidates are chosen differs from state to state, but usually it has something to do with political parties, although it doesn't have to. Why are things so complicated?! What we can say is that candidates, or at least good candidates, usually have certain characteristics. Sorry America. First off, if you are gonna run for office, you should have an unblemished record, free of, oh I don't know, felony convictions or sex scandals, except maybe in Louisiana or New York. This might lead to some pretty bland candidates or people who are so calculating that they have no skeletons in their closet, but we Americans are a moral people and like our candidates to reflect our ideals rather than our reality. The second characteristic that a candidate must possess is the ability to raise money. Now some candidates are billionaires and can finance their own campaigns. But most billionaires have better things to do: buying yachts, making even more money, building money forts, buying more yachts, so they don't have time to run for office. But most candidates get their money for their campaigns by asking for it. The ability to raise money is key, especially now, because running for office is expensive. Can I get a how expensive is it? "How expensive is it?!" Well, so expensive that the prices of elections continually rises and in 2012 winners of House races spent nearly 2 million each. Senate winners spent more than 10 million. By the time this episode airs, I'm sure the numbers will be much higher like a gajillion billion million. Money is important in winning an election, but even more important, statistically, is already being in Congress. Let's go to the Thought Bubble. The person holding an office who runs for that office again is called the incumbent and has a big advantage over any challenger. This is according to political scientists who, being almost as bad at naming things as historians, refer to this as incumbency advantage. There are a number of reasons why incumbents tend to hold onto their seats in congress, if they want to. The first is that a sitting congressman has a record to run on, which we hope includes some legislative accomplishments, although for the past few Congresses, these don't seem to matter. The record might include case work, which is providing direct services to constituents. This is usually done by congressional staffers and includes things like answering questions about how to get certain government benefits or writing recommendation letters to West Point. Congressmen can also provide jobs to constituents, which is usually a good way to get them to vote for you. These are either government jobs, kind of rare these days, called patronage or indirect employment through government contracts for programs within a Congressman's district. These programs are called earmarks or pork barrel programs, and they are much less common now because Congress has decided not to use them any more, sort of. The second advantage that incumbents have is that they have a record of winning elections, which if you think about it, is pretty obvious. Being a proven winner makes it easier for a congressmen to raise money, which helps them win, and long term incumbents tend to be more powerful in Congress which makes it even easier for them to raise money and win. The Constitution give incumbents one structural advantage too. Each elected congressman is allowed $100,000 and free postage to send out election materials. This is called the franking privilege. It's not so clear how great an advantage this is in the age of the internet, but at least according to the book The Victory Lab, direct mail from candidates can be surprisingly effective. How real is this incumbency advantage? Well if you look at the numbers, it seems pretty darn real. Over the past 60 years, almost 90% of members of The House of Representatives got re-elected. The Senate has been even more volatile, but even at the low point in 1980 more than 50% of sitting senators got to keep their jobs. Thanks, Thought Bubble. You're so great. So those are some of the features of congressional elections. Now, if you'll permit me to get a little politically sciencey, I'd like to try to explain why elections are so important to the way that Congressmen and Senators do their jobs. In 1974, political scientist David Mayhew published a book in which he described something he called "The Electoral Connection." This was the idea that Congressmen were primarily motivated by the desire to get re-elected, which intuitively makes a lot of sense, even though I'm not sure what evidence he had for this conclusion. Used to be able to get away with that kind of thing I guess, clearly David may-not-hew to the rules of evidence, pun [rim shot], high five, no. Anyway Mayhew's research methodology isn't as important as his idea itself because The Electoral Connection provides a frame work for understanding congressman's activities. Mayhew divided representatives' behaviors and activities into three categories. The first is advertising; congressmen work to develop their personal brand so that they are recognizable to voters. Al D'Amato used to be know in New York as Senator Pothole, because he was able to bring home so much pork that he could actually fix New York's streets. Not by filling them with pork, money, its money, remember pork barrel spending? The second activity is credit claiming; Congressmen get things done so that they can say they got them done. A lot of case work and especially pork barrel spending are done in the name of credit claiming. Related to credit claiming, but slightly different, is position taking. This means making a public judgmental statement on something likely to be of interest to voters. Senators can do this through filibusters. Representatives can't filibuster, but they can hold hearings, publicly supporting a hearing is a way of associating yourself with an idea without having to actually try to pass legislation. And of course they can go on the TV, especially on Sunday talk shows. What's a TV, who even watches TV? Now the idea of The Electoral Connection doesn't explain every action a member of Congress takes; sometimes they actually make laws to benefit the public good or maybe solve problems, huh, what an idea! But Mayhew's idea gives us a way of thinking about Congressional activity, an analytical lens that connects what Congressmen actually do with how most of us understand Congressmen, through elections. So the next time you see a Congressmen call for a hearing on a supposed horrible scandal or read about a Senator threatening to filibuster a policy that may have significant popular support, ask yourself, "Is this Representative claiming credit or taking a position, and how will this build their brand?" In other words: what's the electoral connection and how will whatever they're doing help them get elected? This might feel a little cynical, but the reality is Mayhew's thesis often seems to fit with today's politics. Thanks for watching, see you next week. Vote for me; I'm on the TV. I'm not -- I'm on the YouTube. Crash Course: Government and Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course is made by all of these nice people. Thanks for watching. That guy isn't nice.

Goals when created

  • remain bipartisan in order to be taken seriously by party leadership, women's special interest organizations, and the media
  • include many congresswomen to bring a diversity of ideas and connections
  • encourage negotiation and accommodation of diverse ideas
  • support among women legislators for policies about women's issues
  • physical space where congresswomen could interact
  • increase visibility of caucus through contact with White House, administration, and congressional leaders[1]


The list of the earliest legislative accomplishments of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues includes:[6]

The influence of the CCWI extends beyond their legislative accomplishments, including bringing international attention to women's issues around the world and representing Congress at U.N. world conferences on women and on population and development. CCWI also serves as role models for women parliamentarians around the globe.[6]


Despite changes in party control, political climate, and ideology throughout time, the presence of women has consistently made a difference in shaping debate and public policy outcomes in Congress.[7]

Women interest groups have greatly impacted the policy process.[8] However, they have been more successful in addressing issues considered by the general public, and other Congress members, to be of "role equity", rather than "role change".[8] Therefore, many of the political solutions that have been pursued are to address economic inequality and perceived injustice.[8] This is also a result of the Congressional Caucus of Women's Issues being bipartisan, and these issues not falling along party divides.

Women's interest groups have been responsible for substantial legislative, administrative, and judicial change, changes in female voting patterns, and an increase in the number of elected female officials.[8]


The House included approximately a dozen women in the 1950s. Even with women in office, women's views and interests were rarely addressed. In 1964, chairman of the Rules Committee, Howard Smith, introduced a sexual discrimination amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, in an attempt to make it too controversial to pass. His efforts failed in large part due to female legislators, when the Act passed anyways. However, the climate of insensitivity to women's rights and issues remained.[1]

From the suffragist movement to the 1960s, the two political parties were split over women's issues. The Republican Party advocated for equal rights for women, while Democrats tended to lean toward protective legislation that would shield women from social and economic competition.[9] During the 1960s, the parties began to converge on their views of women's issues, and there was a general consensus that women should have legal equality.[9]


By the end of the 1960s, both major parties appeared to be supportive of women's rights. The early 1970s are considered to be fairly bipartisan. However, there was a split toward the end of the 1970s, with Democrats being more likely to support women's issues than Republicans.[1] During the early 1970s, many female representatives tried to organize a women's group within Congress. These efforts were unsuccessful, as many other congresswomen did not want to join the group, whether for structural or ideological reasons. By 1977, the women obstructing the formation of a group had left Congress and an organizational mock up for a congressional group dedicated to women's issues in the legislative branch was created.[1] It was entitled the Congresswomen's Caucus.[10]

Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970

Two developments created through the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 significantly affected women's policy advocacy in Congress. Partisan leaders' influence grew and began to over power committee chairmen. Prior to the 1970s, committee chairs were chosen based on seniority and there were no term limits. By taking the power away from these chairs, it allowed for women to get rid of bills that had been protected by committee chairmen who were anti women's interests. The previous seniority system and very few women in Congress made it hard for women to be put into position of power that would actually influence policy creation. However, this may have eventually resulted in more harm than good for those seeking policies addressing women's interests. As the power shifted toward party leadership, the climate in Congress became one of partisanship, which made it more difficult for congresswomen to support their initiatives. The Legislative Reorganization Act also made committee hearings more open to the public. The records being publicly exposed made it difficult for women to seek support from members who may want their support to remain private.[1]


Voting studies of the 1980 and 1984 elections showed that women vote differently than men.[8] This divide between party alignment among the genders continued to the years of the Reagan administration, due to their perceived anti-women views of President Reagan and his supporters in Congress.[8]


Due to the new Reagan administration, a more conservative national climate, and new House rules regarding financial support for caucuses, the CCWI went through a reorganization. Membership was opened to male representatives with an interest in advancing women's interests. The Caucus changed its name to the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, or what it is currently known as. Only female members served on the executive committee, which drafted legislative policy and elected officers for the Caucus. The Economic Equity Act became a key piece of legislation supported by the Caucus during this time.[10]


1992: "Year of the Woman"

The 1992 election nearly doubled the number of women in the House of Representatives. Twenty four women were elected into positions, and twenty two of them joined the CCWI. A female representative was appointed to every House Committee for the first time.[10]

103rd Congress

CCWI leadership established task forces, including those addressing women's health, violence against women, and economic and educational equity. The 103rd Congress was highly successful for the CCWI. They nearly doubled the measures they helped enact. Sixty-six Caucus-sponsored laws were enacted during the 103rd Congress, including groundbreaking policies addressing violence against women, women's health, working women, education, and families.[10] Representative Olympia Snowe is quoted as saying, "For families with new babies or elderly parents who need care, for women who are afraid to walk down to their cars at night, for all who fear that breast cancer will deprive them of a mother, sister or daughter, this Congress has made a difference."[11] The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues published a "Summary of Legislative Action", which identified a number of legislative initiatives important for women and the family.[12] Of the 74 legislative initiatives named in the summary, only 43, or 58%, came before the House floor.[12]

1994 House of Representatives midterm election

The 1994 House of Representatives midterm elections concluded forty years of Democratic power.[11] This resulted in a Republican majority determined to implement a conservative agenda.[11] In order to enact the Contract with America, Newt Gingrich and GOP leaders restructured the House and party rules, centralizing power in their hands and stripping Democrats of any resources that could be used to delay the majority's initiatives.[11] These reforms limited caucus' resources, including the elimination of an institutional budget, staff, and an official role in the lawmaking process.[13] Informal House groups were a vulnerable target during the 104th Congress.[11] The CCWI was then forced to go on the defensive to maintain legislation, instead of continuing to advocate for policies that would advance the rights of women.[11] Also in 1994, Olympia Snowe and Patricia Schroeder, both who had chaired the CCWI for over ten years, gave up their positions. The Caucus members revised the bylaws and established two-year terms for chairs, as well as new vice-chair positions.[10]


Republican leadership in the House wished to rid all legislative service organizations, or specialized caucuses, of funding, offices, and staff. As a result, the CCWI restructured into a Congressional Membership Organization. The Caucus changed back to include only female members of Congress. Former staff of the Congress created a non-profit 501(c)(3) called Women's Policy, Inc. in order to continue to provide research and information on women's issues for members of Congress.[10]



The 107th Congress was the first time that all women in the House joined the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues.[14] Each female representative is considered a member of the CCWI unless she opts out.[10]


The caucus was purposefully bipartisan because of this presumed role as collective representatives of the female experience. The climate of bipartisanship was maintained through unanimity rule, meaning that the caucus didn't take any action unless it was supported by every single member. As a result, some of the most controversial issues facing women, such as abortion, were not addressed by the caucus. However, members could individually support legislation on these issues.[1] Since the structural changes in 1995, CCWI leadership has always included one Republican and one Democratic co-chair, as well as vice-chairs. These leaders are elected by members of their respective parties.[10] Each political party is able to have a say in the leadership and direction of the CCWI. Democratic and Republican congresswomen attempt to put away their partisan differences in order to promote policies to address women's issues.[15]

Although political parties hold the majority of power and there are rules that specifically limit caucuses' resources, legislators are given complete discretion over their caucus membership decisions, which allows them to tailor their memberships to include caucuses that address issues specific to their constituents. Although caucus membership may be indicative of legislators' own policy interests, legislators are typically interested in being members of caucuses that focus on issues of interest to their constituents. If their constituents have strong ties to an issue, legislators are who represent them are more likely to belong to caucuses devoted to that issue, even once they account for potential impact of party status, committee membership, electoral vulnerability, and their own opinions.[13] This means that if constituents were passionate about women's issues, a legislator may join the CCWI, even if their party's particular views may not align with policies created by the caucus.

In a study examining the support for legislative initiatives in the 103rd Congress, it was found that ideological conservatism decreases one's support for women's issues and being a female Democrat increases the number of women's issues they supported.[12] The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues is bipartisan and consists of both Republican and Democratic congresswomen, but evidence suggests that partisanship does play a role in support of legislation regarding women's issues.[12][15]

Those who identify with the Democratic Party have more favorable opinions of women in leadership positions, both within government and business. The Democratic Party is also the predominant party of elected female officials. Women in the Democratic party are strong proponents of female political leaders, more so than Democratic men or Republican women. Compared with Republicans, Democrats as a whole are significantly more likely to say that women do a better job in terms of political leadership qualities. Republicans do not necessarily favor men but are likely to say there isn't a difference between men and women.[16]

Perception of Republicans' attitude toward women's issues

Although once an advocate for equal legal rights for women (from suffragism to the 1960s), the Republican Party began a role reversal in the early 1970s by backing away from legal equality and not accepting the Supreme Court's stance on abortion rights. These issues didn't create a gender gap at the time, but did create a perception that Democrats were reaching out to women as constituents and Republicans were not.[9]

In 2012, Republican Representative Todd Akin suggested a woman's body would prevent pregnancy from a "legitimate rape", and Richard E. Mourdock lost his Senate race in Indiana after saying it was "God's Will" when pregnancy resulted from rape.[17] Comments like this, and other conservative policy agendas, like defunding Planned Parenthood, make it appear as though the Republican party works against women's issues. John Weaver, a senior Republican strategist, is quoted as saying, "We have a significant problem with female voters."[17] Democrats are seen as making the entire Republican party as insensitive to women.[17] However, Republicans' focus on social issues, such as proposals to defund Planned Parenthood and fighting against the Obama administration’s ruling that insurance companies must cover contraceptives, are what result in the creation of these perceptions.[17]

Women like Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, believes the perception of the Republican Party as a whole against women is a "myth manufactured by Democrats in Washington."[17] She views the Republican Party as one of individual freedom and personal responsibility, and therefore the government shouldn't even be involved in issues such as abortion.[17] Therefore, it is evident that not all Republicans are against women's issues, despite any perception that may be propagated in the media. However, there is a disparity between female voters for Republicans and Democrats: President Obama beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race by eleven points among women.[17]

List of chairs and ranking members

Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues in the 118th United States Congress
Term start Term end Chair Co-Chair
1977 1979 Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-MA)
1979 1983 Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-CO)
1983 1995 Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
1995 1997 Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)
1997 1999 Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
1999 2001 Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
2001 2003 Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA)
2003 2005 Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY)
2005 2007 Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA)
2007 2009 Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
2009 2011 Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Rep. Mary Fallin (R-OK)
2011 2013 Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)
2013 2015 Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)
2015 2017 Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)
2017 2019 Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL)
2019 2021 Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)
2021 2023 Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) Del. Jenniffer González (R-PR)
2023 present Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Legislative Reform, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, and the Cr...[dead link]
  2. ^ "Women's Congressional Policy Institute: Caucus History and Accomplishments". Retrieved 11 July 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Women's Caucus Puts Health at Top of Its '09 List – Women's eNews". 5 January 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Caucus History & Accomplishments - Women's Congressional Policy Institute". 1977-04-19. Retrieved 2022-07-18.
  5. ^ Hess, Hannah (2013-07-29). "Washington Bids Farewell to Lindy Boggs". Roll Call. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Women's Congressional Policy Institute: Caucus History and Accomplishments". Retrieved 28 June 2022.
  7. ^ Hawkesworth, Casey, Jenkins, Kleeman, Mary, Kathleen, Krista, Katherine (November 2001). "Legislating By and For Women: A Comparison of the 103rd and 104th Congresses" (PDF). Eagleton Institute of Politics.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ a b c d e f Palley, Marian Lief (1987). The Women's Movement in Recent American Politics. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 151–154 – via ERIC.
  9. ^ a b c Costain, Anne (1991). "After Reagan: New Party Attitudes toward Gender". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 515: 114–125. doi:10.1177/0002716291515001010. JSTOR 1046932. S2CID 143832727.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Ernst, Julia (2006). "The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues: An Inside Perspective on Lawmaking by and for Women". Michigan Journal of Gender and Law. 12.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Gertzog, Irwin N. (2004-01-01). Women and Power on Capitol Hill: Reconstructing the Congressional Women's Caucus. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-58826-283-7.
  12. ^ a b c d Dolan, Julie (1998). "Support for Women's Interests in the 103rd Congress". Women & Politics. 18 (4): 81–94. doi:10.1300/j014v18n04_05.
  13. ^ a b Miler, K. C. (2011). "The Constituency Motivations of Caucus Membership". American Politics Research. 39 (5): 885–920. doi:10.1177/1532673x11407148. S2CID 153868214.
  14. ^ "Hilda Solis on Principles & Values". Archived from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  15. ^ a b "Women's Issues". Congresswoman Susan Davis. Archived from the original on 2016-12-08. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  16. ^ "Women and Leadership". Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. 2015-01-14. Retrieved 2016-12-21.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Steinhauer, Jennifer (2012-11-07). "Women's Issues Were a Problem for G.O.P." The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-17.

External links

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