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In 2018, voters elected one of the most diverse congressional classes ever.
Congress suddenly looks very different — in a good way.
The midterms swept in a historic new class of diverse lawmakers who are due to dramatically reshape the centuries-old government body and transform not only the kinds of policies that end up being prioritized but also how Congress actually functions on a day-to-day basis.
The incoming class of lawmakers now has a record-breaking number of women, people of color, and LGBTQ representatives — and they’ve already begun to shake things up. Because so many of the new House members are mothers with small children, for example, the Capitol is now adding baby-changing tables in the members-only bathrooms and considering possible changes to its working hours, Politico reported.
Here are 10 data points that capture some of the limited — but notable — good things that are happening in Congress.
117 women are joining Congress
2018 lived up to its “Year of the Woman” moniker. With all the votes in, a record number of 117 women were ultimately sent to Congress this cycle — a significant jump from 2016 when 89 women were elected. Altogether, 127 women are due to serve in the 116th Congress.
The gains this year mirror those that took place in 1992, the other renowned “Year of the Woman,” when four women were elected to the Senate and 24 women were elected to the House. Much of the 2018 surge was buoyed by a massive spike in women candidates, many of whom said they were driven to run because of Trump’s presidency.
The follow-up to the 1992 election appeared to reaffirm research suggesting that the election of women has a notable impact on policies that are raised. In the wake of the 1992 election, Democrats — who had control of both Congress and the White House — passed the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as the Violence Against Women Act.
102 women were elected to the House
The majority of the gains women saw in Congress this cycle took place in the House.
The House is set to see its most diverse class ever, with more than 100 women who will count themselves as members come January 3. Democrats elected 89 women, while Republicans elected 13.
The class includes a slew of significant firsts:
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer — both 29 when they won their seats — are the youngest women ever elected to Congress.
- Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids are the first Native American women elected to Congress.
- Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
This number has far surpassed the previous record of 85 women serving in the House, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.
15 women will join the Senate
Women broke records in Congress’s upper chamber as well. The previous record had been a total of 23 women serving in the 100-person body at one time, and they built on that milestone to make it 25 this cycle.
In both Tennessee and Arizona, Sens.-elect Marsha Blackburn and Kyrsten Sinema are the first women to represent their respective states in the upper chamber.
And while GOP numbers of women will dip in the House, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s reelection and Martha McSally’s appointment ups the party’s ranks to eight women senators in the 116th Congress.
36 women are new members
Of the women elected to Congress, 36 are new members.
Their victories are a testament to the successes of many women this cycle who upset incumbent representatives or emerged victorious in heavily contested races for a slew of open seats that were available. An NBC News analysis found that women on both sides of the aisle were outperforming their male counterparts during the primaries — and were more likely to win if they were challengers in a race.
What’s more, more than 20 House seats were won by first-time women candidates, according to an analysis from the Washington Post. Not only did 2018 see a huge jump in women candidates, it also saw a massive bump in the number of women who were vying for their first-ever elected office.
One such candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was responsible for one of the most stunning upsets this cycle when she defeated Democratic heavyweight Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Lauren Underwood, a former adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services, was also a first-time candidate who became the first African-American woman to win Illinois’s 14th Congressional District.
Former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger, nonprofit executive Katie Hill, and gun control activist Lucy McBathare just a few others who were all running for elected office for the first time — and won.
23 freshmen House members are people of color
The incoming House class is making major strides when it comes to diversity.
According to a New York Times analysis, 23 freshmen are people of color, and they’re bolstering representation in the government body, which is still predominantly made up of white men. The 115th Congress had previously been heralded as the most diverse ever, and it now appears the 116th could surpass it.
This cycle included a series of milestones: Reps.-elect Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes were the first African-American women Massachusetts and Connecticut had ever elected to the House, respectively. And Rep.-elect Andy Kim is the first Korean American Congressmember to be elected in roughly two decades.
There are now at least 10 LGBTQ members of Congress
A record 10 LGBTQ members are set to be part of the 116th Congress, the most who have ever served across both chambers.
They include Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, who is the first openly bisexual woman to serve in the upper chamber, as well as Rep. David Cicilline, who recently secured a spot in House Democratic leadership as the head of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected to the House, was also recently elected as governor of Colorado.
28 women in the new Congress are moms of younger children
The House could consider shifts to its vote schedule — which has often included later evening votes — in order to enable lawmakers with younger children to be able to spend time with their families. It’s one of several changes being weighed as an influx of mothers with younger children join Congress and raise the need to balance their work demands with those of caring for their children, Politico reports.
According to Working Mother magazine, there had previously only been roughly a dozen women in Congress who had children under 18. With the new class of lawmakers, that number has more than doubled, a CAWP analysis found.
And this shift is changing the way lawmakers think about establishing a better balance between the work they do and their family lives. Already, Liuba Grechen Shirley — a candidate for a New York House seat who ultimately lost — has helped change the way Federal Election Commission rules govern how official campaign funds can be used for child care. It’s possible there are many more changes like this coming down the pike in Congress as well.
6 women are poised to lead House committees in the new term
With Democrats taking back control of the House, women are on track to head up at least six of the most influential committees in the lower chamber.
Rep. Nita Lowey will be the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, while Reps. Maxine Waters and Nydia Velázquez are poised to chair the Financial Services and Small Business committees, respectively.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi has also recently received Democrats’ nomination to become the new speaker of the House — and while she’ll have to whip some votes in order to fully cement her victory, she appears slated to retake the role.
At least 2 women could lead Senate committees in the new term
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is currently the head of the Senate’s powerful Energy Committee, and her spokesperson has previously said that she’s interested in maintaining her committee assignments in the new term. Similarly, Sen. Susan Collins — who has said she’s interested keeping her committee assignments — could stay on as the chair of the Special Committee on Aging.
If they opt to stick with these posts, they’re on track to be the two female committee chairs in the Senate.
1 baby has been present for votes on the Senate floor
Following the midterms and the surge of women Representatives — many of whom are mothers — in the House, the lower chamber is due to make some key changes to how the Capitol is set up in order to make it friendlier to parents, according to a Politico report.
Before the midterm elections even took place, however, another moment transformed how the Senate treats lawmakers who are parents.
This past April, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) became the first senator to ever bring her baby to the Senate floor after she gave birth earlier that month, shattering a centuries-long bar of younger children from the upper chamber.
Duckworth is the first senator to give birth while in office and had argued that she couldn’t be separated from her child, whom she needed to breastfeed while she continued to do her job in the Senate. (Senators must be present on the floor in order to participate in votes, and there had previously been no clear options for parents to simultaneously care for newborns and fulfill this responsibility.)
The Senate ultimately approved a resolution that now allows children under the age of 1 on the floor during votes. As Congress continues to adapt to more and more lawmakers who are parents, Duckworth’s historic move seems like it could be just the beginning.
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