06/11/2012 05:31 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2012

Kay Bailey Hutchison Praised For Empowering Women After Blocking Bill To Empower Women

WASHINGTON -- In a little noticed sequence of events last week, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) managed to generate praise for her work in empowering women right after rejecting a bill that would have ensured they receive equal pay for equal work.

During a lavish Kennedy Center gala on Wednesday night, Hutchison stood on stage raving about the importance of helping women around the world to prosper economically, even receiving a round of applause for her work on the cause. The event was hosted by Vital Voices, an organization that has trained and mentored more than 12,000 emerging female leaders from more than 144 countries.

"I love serving as honorary co-chair of Vital Voices," Hutchison told the packed theater. "I wouldn't miss this night for the world."

MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, who shared the stage with Hutchison, praised the senator for her work with Vital Voices.

"I just want to thank you for your service and for all you've done for Vital Voices. And for our country," Mitchell said to Hutchison, drawing applause. "Thank you."

But as Hutchison went on to present an economic empowerment award to a Samoan woman who launched a business in her impoverished community, what many people in the room didn't know was that, a day earlier, Hutchison helped to kill a bill that would have ensured U.S. women are paid the same as their male counterparts.

Hutchison joined all Senate Republicans on Tuesday in blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have required employers to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same job are not gender-related. The bill also would have barred employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers, and would have required the Labor Department to step up its efforts to eliminate pay disparities.

The Huffington Post asked a handful of attendees at the Kennedy Center event if they knew about Hutchison's vote the day prior. Most said they didn't know about it; those who did know about it said they were infuriated as they watched Hutchison receive praise for helping women prosper economically after having opposed the equal pay bill.

Vital Voices spokeswoman Vikki Loles didn't have much of a reaction to Hutchison's vote. She said the organization simply supports women in leadership, regardless of specific votes or positions they may take.

"We don't believe it is possible or advisable for VVGP [Vital Voices Global Partnership] to independently review and agree with every vote, decision, or statement that a woman leader makes," Loles said Monday in an email. "Our highest and best purpose is to support emerging women leaders and to honor and applaud established women leaders like Secretary of State [Hillary Clinton], Senator Barbara Boxer, and Senator [Kay Bailey Hutchison] for their decades of public service and their willingness to help us honor other women leaders at our annual awards ceremony."

Hutchison spokesman Dean Pagani dismissed the idea that there was anything hypocritical about the senator's actions.

"You can't vote for a bill based on its title," Pagani said of the Paycheck Fairness Act, in a statement to The Huffington Post. "You have to take the time to understand its real world effects."

Pagani said the Paycheck Fairness Act "would do nothing" to add to protections that women already have under current law. In fact, he said, it could end up "hurting both men and women" in the workplace.

"Removing the ability of employers to give higher salaries for shift differences, experience, education and rewards for performance is not good for women, men, nor America [sic] exceptionalism," Pagani said.

This piece has been updated to include a comment from Vital Voices.