When the 116th U.S. Congress was sworn in Thursday afternoon, a record number of women took the oath of office. In all, 126 women now serve in the House and Senate — 106 of them Democrats.
It is the most diverse class of lawmakers to ever assemble on Capitol Hill — and one that includes plenty of firsts. Among them: the first two Muslim American women, first two Native American women, first two Latinas from Texas and the first black woman from Massachusetts and the first lesbian from Minnesota. A total of 43 women of color were sworn in Thursday.
There is also diversity in age: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at age 29. She is 10 months younger than Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, who just turned 30 on Dec. 27. In all, there are 21 new millennial legislators — defined as being born between 1981 and 1996 — a 420 percent bump from the 115th Congress.
The first two Muslim American women to serve in Congress are Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Omar had a viral tweet expanding on her background Monday when she posted a photo with her father captioned, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.” As part of the new rules package for the upcoming Congress, religious headwear will be permitted on the floor, allowing Omar to wear a traditional head scarf.
23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 2, 2019
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., are the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress. Davids is also the first openly lesbian congresswoman from Kansas, while Angie Craig is the first openly lesbian congresswoman from Minnesota. Rep. Chris Pappas is the first openly gay congressman from New Hampshire and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is the first openly bisexual senator in the institution’s history. (Sinema shifts over from the House, where she had served since 2013.)
Rep. Ayanna Pressley is the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts while Rep. Veronica Escobar and Rep. Sylvia Garcia are the first two Latinas elected from Texas. Newly elected Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., are the first women to represent their states in that chamber.
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, of Cuban descent, is the only freshman Republican who is not a white man or woman.
Many of the newcomers on the Democratic side have been in contact with one another since the early days of their campaign. Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and Pressley were all endorsed by the Justice Democrats, a progressive group, while both Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib are members of the Democratic Socialists of America.
The makeup of the new Congress underscores the growing gender gap between the parties. In 1989, there were 13 Republican women and 16 Democratic women in the U.S. House of representatives. Thirty years later, the new House class comprises 13 Republican women and 89 Democratic women.
“We must do better,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the youngest GOP woman ever elected to Congress, tweeted Thursday. “Our nation’s commitment to electing more women must be bipartisan.”
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