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Congratulations to History-Making New Congress
By Miriam Edelman

Recently, more Congressional history was made. On March 22, the Senate Sergeant at Arms leadership became all female for the first time in history (since the office was created in 1789). This group includes Sergeant at Arms Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson, Deputy Sergeant at Arms Kelly Fado, and Chief of Staff Jennifer Hemingway. In addition, Julia Letlow was the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Louisiana. She won her recent special election to take the seat of her late husband, who died from coronavirus late last year soon before he was to take office.

Congratulations to members and employees of the new Congress. They made history in terms of gender, race, age, religion, and sexual orientation.

The new 117th Congress is the most diverse in history. There are record numbers of women, racial minority, and LGBTQ members. Women made major gains in Congress. There is a record of at least 144 (26.9%) women members of Congress. For the first time, females are more than 25% of members of both Congressional chambers combined, breaking the record of 23.7% that was set in 2019. There is a record number of Republican female members of Congress (at least 38—up from the record of 30 that was set in 2006). There are record numbers of women of color in Congress (at least 52, up from the record of 48 that was set in 2019), Republican women of color in Congress (at least five, up from the record of three from 2014), women in the House (at least 118, up from a record of 102 that was set in 2019), Republican women in the House (at least 29), women of color in the House (at least 48), Republican women of color in the House, and African American female Representatives. Additionally, record numbers of Native Americans and new Republican females were elected.

The current Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in American history. Around 23% of members of Congress are racial or ethnic minorities. A plurality of them is African American. There are record numbers of African American and Hispanic members of Congress. Now, African Americans and Native Americans are represented about equally in the United States and the House. While African Americans comprise 13% of the United States and the House, Native Americans form around 1% of both the United States and the House.

As of November 16, 2020, these record-breaking Republican women of color in the House include two Korean Americans, one Iranian American, two Hispanics, and one Native American. All but the Hispanics and the Native American are at least the first female of their ethnicity in Congress. In 2021, they are all new in 2021, after they defeated first-term incumbents in 2020. Michelle Steel defeated Representative Harley Rouda (D-CA). Young Kim defeated Representative Gil Cisneros (D-CA) in a rematch from 2018. Stephanie Bice defeated Representative Kendra Horn (R-OK). Maria Elvira Salazar defeated Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL), who was President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Nicole Malliotakis defeated Representative Max Rose (D-NY). Yvette Herrell defeated Representative Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) in a rematch from 2018.

LGBTQ people also made increases in Congress. In 2021, there is the largest and most diverse group of LGBTQ members of Congress. There are nine (up from seven in 2020) openly LGBTQ Representatives and two openly LGBTQ Senators. The number of openly LGBTQ Representatives of color are four (up from two in the last Congress). While Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY) is the United States’ first openly LGBTQ Afro-Latino member of Congress, Representative Mondaire Jones (D-NY) is the nation’s first openly LGBTQ African American member of Congress. Torres is the first member of Congress permitted to join the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Torres is also the first Freshman Representative in the weekly crescendo meetings with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House caucus chairs.

History was also made in the U.S. Senate. As Vice President, Kamala Harris is the first female, African American, and Asian American President of the Senate. Already, she has cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, something her boss President Joe Biden never did during his eight years as Vice President.

There is a record number of Hispanic Senators (six). Hispanic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are joined by newcomers Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Alex Padilla (D-CA). On December 22, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Padilla, who is California’s first Latino Senator, to replace Harris (D-CA) several years after Latinos became California’s largest ethnic group. For the first time since California made history in 1993 by becoming the first state to have an all-female U.S. Senate delegation, California is not represented by two female Senators. Padilla serves with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whom he used to work for.

Other Senators made history. Former U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) is Wyoming’s first female Senator. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is the longest-serving Republican female Senator. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) was the first Republican Senator of West Virginia to be reelected in more than 100 years. For the first time since the 1950s, Arizona has two Democratic Senators. Astronaut and former navy captain Mark Kelly (D), the husband of former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, defeated Senator Martha McSally (R), to the former seat of the late U.S. Senator John McCain (R). Since she also lost her 2018 U.S. Senate race before Governor Doug Ducey (R) appointed her to the Senate, McSally is responsible for flipping both these Senate seats blue. 68-year-old John Hickenlooper (D), who ran unsuccessfully for President in 2020, is the oldest Colorado person to win election to the Senate for the first time. He serves alongside former 2020 Presidential candidate Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). Bennet assisted in getting Hickenlooper’s 2003 election to be Mayor of Denver and later was his Chief of Staff.

There is also history in the U.S. House of Representatives. Thirty years after Hawaii was the first state to elect an all-female of color House delegation in 1990, New Mexico elected an all-female of color U.S. House delegation for the first time. At the start of the new Congress, this delegation became the largest all-female of color House delegation ever. Its members were Native American Deb Haaland (D); Hispanic Teresa Leger Fernandez (D), who is the first female to represent her Congressional district; and Native American Yvette Herrell (R). Herrell is the first Republican female Native American elected to Congress. New Mexico is the first state to have two Native American Representatives. However, Haaland recently joined Biden’s Cabinet as Interior Secretary and as the United States’ first Native American Cabinet Secretary. Thus, this historic delegation is short-lived.

The House is more diverse in terms of ethnicity/nation of origin. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Michelle Steele (R-CA), and Young Kim (R-CA) were the first Korean American women elected to Congress. Due to their elections, this new Congress is the first one with at least four Korean American Representatives. Strickland (D-WA) is also Washington State’s first African American member of Congress. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) is the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress. She is also the first naturalized citizen to represent Indiana in the U.S. Congress. Stephanie Bice (R-OK), who was the first Iranian American elected to Congress, is the highest-ranking Iranian American in the U.S. government.

Other new Representatives have made history. Super Bowl champion Burgess Owens is Utah’s first African American male member of Congress. Cori Bush (D-MO) is Missouri’s first African American Congresswoman and Missouri’s first single mother member of Congress. At 25 years old, Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) was the youngest Republican elected to the House. He is the first member of Congress who was born in the 1990s. In 2021, there is a 60-plus year age difference between the oldest and youngest members of Congress. Nancy Mace (R-SC), the first female Citadel graduate, was the first Republican woman elected to Congress from South Carolina. Kai Kahele (D-HI) is Hawaii’s first member of Congress not from Oahu. He is just the second Native Hawaiian to represent Hawaii in Congress, the only other one being the late Senator Daniel Akaka (D).

History was also made after the November 2020 elections. Democratic Representatives elected Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) Assistant Speaker, the fourth-ranking position in the House. This position makes Clark the most powerful Congresswoman from Massachusetts in history. Clark becomes the second-highest-ranking female in party leadership ever, behind Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY) is the first openly gay person to be Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) is the first African American to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representative David Scott (D-GA) is the first Georgian and the first African American to chair the House Agriculture Committee. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is the first Connecticut Representative to chair the House Appropriations Committee. House Republicans chose Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)—as of 2018, the only member of Congress to give birth three times as a member of Congress—to be the new Ranking Member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. She is the first female to lead a party on that committee. Selected by Pelosi to be chaplain of the House, Navy Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben is the first female Congressional chaplain in U.S. history. Sonceria “Ann” Berry was named the Secretary of Senate and is the first African American to hold this position.

The two Georgia Senate run-off elections of January 5, 2021, made large amounts of history. Raphael Warnock is Georgia’s first African American Senator and the first Democrat African American southern state Senator. Jon Ossoff is Georgia’s first Jewish Senator. At 33 years old, he is the first Millennial Senator and was the youngest Democrat Senator-Elect since President Joe Biden in 1973. Ossoff is the first Senator who was born in the 1980s. Warnock and Ossoff gave Democrats majority of the Senate, making Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the first Jewish Senate Majority Leader and the first Senate Majority Leader of New York.

Even more history could be made soon. History could be made in upcoming special elections.

— Miriam Edelman is a policy professional in Washington, D.C. She interned/worked for the U.S. Congress (U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives) for about five years.