Yesterday marked the last official day on the job for the 112th Congress. That particular Congress made history by breaking a record: they were deemed the least productive Congress ever due to lack of legislation passed. Today, the 113th Congress will make history of its own; this group will be the most diverse Congress ever. When the legislators swear into office taking the constitutionally mandated oath at noon, American citizens will be represented by a class of not just men, but by more women and openly gay lawmakers. Among the legislators, Congress will also have 43 African American members (though only one, Tim Scott was appointed by North Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, will be in the Senate as the nation’s 7th ever black Senator). Interestingly, straight white men are a minority among House Democrats.
This past Election Day, Democrats increased their majority in the Senate while Republicans held on to the majority in the House of Representatives. Here is a list of outgoing and incoming senators and Congresspeople; the list separates those who were ousted from office from those who retired. On Election Day the Senate added 12 newly-elected members – including eight Democrats, one Independent, and three Republicans. In the House of Representatives, 82 newly-elected legislators will take their place, replacing long-time representatives such as Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA), while the Senate replaced such notable retirees as Kay Bailey Hutchison R-TX), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) who was known to cross the political aisle to get legislation such as Obamacare passed. Now, in the Senate, with four women added to the list there is a total of 20 — 16 of whom are Democrats and 4 are members of the GOP.
New Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is the first openly-gay person elected to the Senate. She’ll Be working alongside Elizabeth Warren (D–MA) who won one of the most contentious Senate races during the election season against incumbent Scott Brown – now rumored to be considering a run for the seat being vacated by Senator John Kerry, if Kerry is confirmed as President Obama’s Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton.
One item of note is that this year’s freshman class of Republicans is significantly smaller than the freshman class of 2010 that was swept in on a wave of Tea Party popularity. Many believe that the strict ideology followed by those freshmen is directly responsible for House Speaker John Boehner’s inability to control members of his own party and prevent what appears to be unprecedented obstruction against any legislation put forth by a President.
Given the recent history of Congress, the 113th Congress has many hurdles to overcome. But if the newly elected representatives approach their new jobs with the thought in mind that they were elected to enact change and move this nation forward that, in and of itself, will make history.