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Representatives from left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, Jahana Hayes, a Democrat from Connecticut, Lauren Underwood, a Democrat from Illinois, and Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Democrat from Texas, sit on the House Chamber during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The future is female

These women are making history as Congress celebrates newfound diversity

By WITW Staff on January 3, 2019

There was a celebratory atmosphere in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, as the 116th Congress was sworn in, delivering the most diverse group of lawmakers ever elected in U.S. history.

The record-making day brought to Congress the highest number of women, the youngest congresswoman, the first Muslim women and also the first Native-American women. The first and only woman to ever hold the position of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is now also the first to have reclaimed the role in more than six decades.

After accepting the speaker’s gavel from new minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Pelosi remarked on the nation being at “an historic moment,” calling on “the beauty of our Constitution, our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy.”

Pelosi said she “particularly proud” to return as speaker in the 100th year of women having the right to vote, and presiding over the highest number of women in Congress’s history. Promising a “transparent, bipartisan and unifying” House, Pelosi outlined an ambitious two-year agenda, that includes addressing income disparity, affordable and accessible health care, climate change, gun control, an end to discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, and protections for young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. Read the full transcript of her speech at Time.

New Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, holds the gavel during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Other ‘firsts’ on Thursday included the swearing in of Tennessee’s first woman senator, Marsha Blackburn; Connecticut’s and Massachusetts’ first black Congresswomen, Jahana Hayes and Ayanna Pressley; Texas’ first Latina Congresswomen, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar; Mississippi’s first woman senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith; Arizona’s first women senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally, and the first women elected to the House from Iowa, Abby Finkenhauer and Cindy Axne.

Roughly 24 percent of all seats in Congress are now held by women — 106 Democrats and 21 Republicans. Twenty-five women will serve in the Senate, with 17 Democrats and eight Republicans.

At 29 years old, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Caught on camera warmly greeting a Capitol employee, the New York Democrat was wearing a white pantsuit — a color strongly associated with the women’s suffrage movement. Keen observers will recall that Hillary Clinton wore a white pantsuit while accepting her nomination for the Democratic Party in the presidential race. The following year, when Donald Trump made his first congressional address, every woman Democrat wore white to symbolize their solidarityin opposition to policies that threatened to diminish women’s rights.

On Wednesday, Cortez posted an image from Vanity Fair of herself and five other colleagues at the Capitol. “We’re in the building. Swearing in tomorrow,” she wrote.

One of the first Muslim women to be elected, Somali-American Ilhan Omar also opted for white, paired with an orange head scarf. Omar had earlier tweeted about landing at the same airport for her swearing in that she and her father flew into when they first arrived as refugees via Kenya.

Deb Haaland, one of the first Native-American women elected wore traditional pueblo clothing, while Rashida Tlaib’s choice of a Palestinian thobe sparked a colorful online sensation, as other Palestinian womenflooded Twitter with their own photos and the hashtag #TweetYourThobe. Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, and also on of its first Muslim women.

In a widely shared clip, Haaland is seen embracing Sharice Davids — the other Native American woman elected to Congress for the first time, after a midterm election in which a historic number of Native Americans won federal, state and local offices. Davids is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Haaland is part of the Pueblo of Laguna, according to their campaigns. Davids is also the first openly LGBT member of Congress from Kansas.

After Tlaib cast her first vote, her sons dabbed.

Read the full story at CNBC, The Cut and NPR.


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