- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2013

The changing face of Congress can be seen in the changing faces of Congress.

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.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday the makeup of her caucus, where white men are a distinct minority, represented a “sea change in Congress.”

“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.

While diversity has been the early watchword for the new Congress, a Pew Research Center survey of the new members found that Protestants still make up a majority of lawmakers who expressed a religious affiliation, although the percentage declined from 57.3 percent in the 112th Congress to 56.4 percent now. Every Protestant denomination listed saw its numbers fall or stay the same except for Baptists, who added six new members and now make up 14 percent of the new Congress.

The number of Catholic lawmakers increased, while the number of Jewish members fell from 39 to 32, according to Pew’s calculations.

The number of lawmakers who declined to list any religious preference rose from six to 11 in the Pew survey, although Congress lost its only avowed atheist when Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, lost his bid for a 20th term to Mr. Swalwell in November.

The shifting faith profile of Congress “continues a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole,” according to the Pew researchers. “While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of the members belonged to Protestant denominations.”

Other notable firsts and milestones from the new Congress:

• First openly gay U.S. senator: Former Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, who will be joined by six openly gay House members, all Democrats

• First Buddhist senator: Former Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat.

• First openly bisexual House member: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat.

• First Hindu House member: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat.

• First female combat veterans: Ms. Gabbard and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat.

• Most female lawmakers: 101, including three nonvoting delegates.

• Average age of senators: 61.

• Average age of House members: 56.

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