The 116th class of Congress broke barriers before its members even set foot in Washington.
One example: Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who will be the first Somali-American member of Congress, noted the history of her election on Twitter on Wednesday night.
“23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC,” she tweeted, along with a photo of her and her father smiling with suitcases. “Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”
Omar is just one of dozens of stories starting a new chapter Thursday. There are record numbers of women who will be sworn in in just a few hours. Muslim women will be serving for the first time — including Omar and Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — as will Native American women, including Reps.-elect Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland. The state of Texas sent the state’s first two Latina members to Congress, and two black congresswomen-elect from New England will also make history by coming to Washington. The historic firsts come from both parties and at least one member — Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York — will be younger than 30.
Democrats seize control of the House on Thursday with fresh voices and new energy as they prepare to take on President Donald Trump, many of them inspired to run because of his presidency.
They’ll be led by a barrier breaker as well. Longtime Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California is poised to make history by winning back the speaker’s gavel and reclaiming a title she had held from 2007 to 2011, when she served as the first and still so far only female House speaker.
The party breakdown in the new House of Representatives will be 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans, with one congressional race in North Carolina still unresolved. In the Senate there will be 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a total that includes two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
The record number of women elected to Congress were key to Democrats’ reclaiming the majority in the House. Though Republicans, on the other hand, lost female representation.
Congress itself is changing to meet the new members coming to Capitol Hill. The new class also includes more women with young children, and female Congress members have recently been even more vocal in forcing the US legislative branch to catch up with the needs of members who are juggling child care and official duties. NPR reported Tuesday that the new Congress opened a new child care facility exclusively for employees of the House of Representatives.
As new elected members get used to Washington — hiring their staffs, figuring out their office budgets and figuring out which apartments to rent — they’ll also be faced with trying to navigate a new political landscape on both sides of the aisle.
For Republicans, most have aligned themselves with Trump.
Voices on the other side of the aisle are less united.
Progressive firebrands like Ocasio-Cortez, who promised to mobilize the resistance, have been elected to the same party as conservative and moderate Democrats who won in districts that went for Trump in 2016 — and they want to keep those seats in 2020.
On one side, progressives ran on promises of impeaching Trump, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, raising the minimum wage and “Medicare-for-all.”
Moderates, on the other hand, promised to prioritize small businesses, tweak the existing health care system, and work with Republicans and Trump when they can.
As the 2020 presidential election nears, and Democrats try to decide what kind of candidate they want to run, don’t expect these new voices to stay quiet.