A Shimmer of Political Hope From Today’s Newly Sworn-In Congress

By Ayana Byrd Jan 03, 2019

In many ways, it feels as if electoral politics in the United States have been barreling at full speed into the regressive past since November 2016. Yet today (January 3), the most diverse Congress in the history of the country was sworn into office—signaling that progressive policies that represent women, people of color and the LGBTQ community will have stronger voices on Capitol Hill.

The 116th Congress swings control of the House back to the Democrats.

“While this Congress represents a step forward towards a more reflective democracy, including a number of inspiring ‘firsts’—the first Native American women, the first Muslim American women, the first openly bisexual Senator—I look forward to when reflective political leadership is as unremarkable as the White male domination of our current system,” Brenda Choresi Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, said in an emailed statement.

Among the new members is Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who is the first Somali-American member of Congress. See her Twitter post of a photo taken as she was traveling to today’s swearing-in.



Today is also the first day in office for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). At 29 years old, she is the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress. The Democratic Socialist Latina ousted Representative Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in New York’s 14th congressional district in a surprise win. Even before taking office, she became a target of conservatives, who attacked the Bronx-native for her progressive stance on issues and called her out on non-issues like the cost of the clothes she wears in photo shoots. Ocasio-Cortez has already lent her support to the Green New Deal, proposed legislation that marries environmental justice with economic justice to combat climate change.

Other history making women include: Ayanna Pressley, Massachusets’ first Black representative; Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan and the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress; Democrat Jahana Hayes, the first Black congresswoman from Connecticut; and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, both Democrats from Texas and the state’s first Latinx women to serve in Congress. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) are the first Native American women elected to Congress. And Davids, who identifies as a lesbian, is the first open member of the LGBTQ community to represent Kansas.

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) resumed her role as Speaker of the House today, making her the nation’s highest elected woman in office. She and the rest of the House face the immediate task of passing legislation to end the government shutdown, now in its 13th day. Other pressing topics include immigration, climate change and, as Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) announced this week, an increase in diversity in the hiring practices of major U.S. corporations.

Democrats will have 235 seats in the new House of Representatives, while Republicans have 199. The Senate remains under Republican control with 53 members, compared to 47 for Democrats.