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113th Congress mirrors increasingly diverse U.S.
More women, ethnic minorities among those storming Hill
Question of the Day
While demographers now project that the United States will become a “majority-minority” nation by 2043, the lineup of the 113th Congress suggests the shift may be coming much more quickly on Capitol Hill, as 82 new House members and 14 new senators take their seats.
Every new Congress — especially those which a large influx of new members — brings with it new milestones, though the 113th may pass a few more than most others. In one of the most remarked “firsts” of 2013, women, blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities will for the first time in history make up a majority of the House Democrats seated this month, almost 60 percent of the party’s overall caucus.
“I really think the new members are manifestations of the American dream,” she said.
By contrast, the percentage of non-white male Republican House members fell from 14 percent in 2010 to 12 percent today, leading David Wasserman, congressional analyst for the Cook Political Report, to observe that the two parties in the House are “living in parallel universes.”
Still, breaking down the racial, ethnic, gender and religious composition of the 113th Congress confirms some trends while confounding some others. Capitol Hill will have its first openly gay senator and its first Hindu House member, while New Hampshire voters made history by sending its first all-female delegation — two senators and two representatives — to Congress.
A record 20 women — 16 Democrats and four Republicans — now hold Senate seats, while 28 Hispanics — 25 Democrats and three Republicans — will sit in the House. The new clout and visibility of the Hispanic delegation was on vivid display Thursday, the day Congress was officially sworn in, with a gala reception for Hispanic lawmakers that shut down an entire wing of nearby Union Station and featured a visit from Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
With immigration likely to be one of the early battles of President Obama’s second term, the increased clout of Hispanic lawmakers could be felt quickly. Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said the upshot of the 2012 congressional vote was that the “Latino giant” is “wide awake, cranky, and it’s taking names.”
But there are also anomalies in the numbers: The only new Hispanic member of the Senate is Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who is likely to be among the chamber’s most conservative members. All three Hispanic senators — Mr. Cruz, Florida Republican Marco Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez — are Cuban-American, even though the large majority of U.S. Hispanics are Mexican-American.
The Senate’s only new black member is also a Republican: former Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was appointed to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim DeMint. Mr. Scott is the first black Republican senator since 1979 and the first black to represent a Southern state since 1881.
Hawaii’s two new Democratic senators will also break new demographic ground while replacing two stalwarts — retired Sen. Daniel K. Akaka and the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye — who boasted a combined 72 years of seniority. Former Rep. Mazie Hirono, elected to replace Mr. Akaka, is the first Asian-American women to serve in the upper chamber and the second minority woman elected to the Senate.
By contrast, former Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, appointed last month to replace Mr. Inouye, was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., identifies himself as Jewish on his Facebook page and will be his state’s first white senator since Democrat Oren E. Long retired in January 1963.
And the 113th Congress will repair the gaping “Kennedy deficit” opened up when Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy’s retirement in 2010 left Capitol Hill without an elected member of the famed American political dynasty for the first time since the Truman administration. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, a former assistant district attorney and the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., will be representing the family after having won the Massachusetts House seat long held by fellow Democrat Barney Frank.
In addition to his family name, Mr. Kennedy will be one of four new House members, all Democrats, born in the 1980s, along with Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California. Born in March 1983, Mr. Murphy supplants Rep. Aaron Schock, Illinois Republican, as Capitol Hill’s youngest member. Mr. Schock held the title for the 110th and 111th Congresses.
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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