January 3rd, 2019 marked a poignant and historic day in U.S. history as the 116th Congress swore in the most inclusive class of representatives ever.
Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the House and her election makes her one of just a few lawmakers to serve as speaker in two, non-consecutive Congresses. She last served as speaker from 2007-2011.
The fact that Pelosi will be at the helm of the House in the midst of a partial government shutdown is proof of the absurdity that has characterized Washington since Trump’s election.
The shutdown that has brought Capitol Hill to a halt since Christmas has left thousands of federal workers without pay. What’s more, the seizing of their income is on the account of Trump’s child-like tantrum over building his megalomanic border wall that had been the hallmark of his campaign trail.
Nonetheless, the partial government shutdown shouldn’t take away from this momentous day. The new Congress now boasts the largest number of women. In fact, there will be 102 women serving in Congress this term.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus added more members than ever before. Connecticut and Massachusetts both electing their first-ever Black congresswomen. Jahana Hayes will represent Connecticut’s fifth district, while Ayanna Pressley, will represent Massachusetts’s seventh district. Additionally, Lauren Underwood became the youngest Black woman ever sworn into Congress.
Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse from the Chicago area, just became the youngest Black woman ever sworn in to Congress. pic.twitter.com/X1VaWNAifl
— AJ+ (@ajplus) January 3, 2019
In her speech, Pelosi described the occasion,
“It is a historic moment for the Congress, and a historic moment for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren’t just waiting; women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal.”
Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) became the first Muslim women in Congress.
Tlaib is also the first Palestinian-American woman in the national legislature. She marked the historic occasion by wearing a thobe — a traditional Palestinian dress. Tlaib represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, which includes parts of Detroit and its surrounding suburbs.
Like fellow freshman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Tlaib is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. She has been a proponent of policies such as a $15 minimum wage, debt-free college, and Medicare-for-all, the abolishment of ICE and the impeachment of President Trump.
23 years ago, Omar was a refugee who came to the United States with her father. Now, she is the first Somali-American elected to Congress. She the first member of the US Congress to wear a hijab.
Rules were changed to allow Omar to wear a religious head covering on the floor of the House. Previously, there had been a 181-year ban on headwear.
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Hey, Ilhan’s dad here: Twenty three years ago, my family and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. We were newly arrived refugees in this country, from a refugee camp in Kenya. I had heard about the promise of America, prosperity for all and hope for a better tomorrow. I could never have dreamed that twenty three years later I would return to the same airport with my daughter Ilhan by my side, the day before she is to be sworn in as the first Somali-American elected to the United States Congress. You, of course, can imagine how emotional this is and why I am incredibly proud of her. It’s an honor to have her represent me and our family is so humbled that Ilhan has the opportunity to serve in our democracy. I wish Ilhan’s grandfather could be here to witness this historic moment. He will be here in spirit as Ilhan will place her hand on his Quran for the ceremonial swearing in. Tomorrow, members of Ilhan’s team will be covering the events of the day. We all hope you will follow along and share in our excitement for what the New Year will bring. As Ilhan would say, forward together. Nur Mohamed #Hope #ilhan
The first openly bisexual lawmaker, Rep. Krysten Sinema (D – Ariz) was also sworn into the Senate and had to faceoff with Vice President Mike Pence.
He is, of course, a vocal proponent of gay-conversion therapy and has passed laws (RFRA), that target LGBTQ people, making it easier for businesses and employers to discriminate against them.
Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native-American women to ever serve in Congress, share a moment after being officially sworn in: pic.twitter.com/acIRC5hX20
— Frank Dale (@fwdale) January 3, 2019
On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), wore white in honor of the suffragists who fought for women’s right to vote. Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
She’s just 28-years-old and just to put that in perspective, the average age of a United States congressperson is around 60. Following her surprise victory in the Democratic primaries over incumbent Joe Crowley in June, Cortez will represent New York’s 14th congressional district in the House of Representatives.
Her campaign platform included universal Medicare, abolishing ICE, gun control, a $15 minimum wage, and the end of private prisons.
Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) shared a touching moment as they embraced on the House floor, wiping away tears, as their presence signaled them as the first Native American women in Congress
In the immediate aftermath of the midterms elections, many quashed any notion of the results as a “blue wave.”
Sure, Democrats didn’t take hold of the Senate, but they did take hold of Congress. The new members of the 116th Congress signal that some things are changing in Washington for the better.
Plus, photos of the new House members demonstrate a huge gap in inclusivity between the political parties.
Given, that the House representatives of Republican Party are a homogeneous group of white older men, it is important that the rest of the House is a group that better reflect the diversity that composes our society.