History made as Congress convenes with more women than ever

The face of the US Congress is more reflective of the country it represents than ever before.

Members of Congress take the oath

By Rebecca Taylor, news reporter

The US Congress has convened for its 116th session, making history with more women than ever before, as Democrats promised to end the government shutdown.

The Democrats have taken control in the House of Representatives after the midterm elections last November.

They wasted no time flexing their new power and vowing to pass legislation that would end the 13-day partial government shutdown.

The Democrats’ new intake includes a Somali refugee, the first Muslim women elected to Congress and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Member-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) poses for a photo with her kids before the first session of the 116th Congress
Image:Member-elect Abigail Spanberger poses for a photo with her kids before the first session of the 116th Congress

In her first remarks to the House, re-elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “We all have the ability and the privilege to serve and to serve with over 100 women members of congress, the largest number in history.

“As McCarthy said each of us comes to this chamber strengthened by the trust of our constituents and the love of our families.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, holds the gavel after she is voted in
Image:Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, holds the gavel after she is voted in

“My mother and father and my brother Tommy who was mayor of Baltimore taught us that public service was a noble calling. They taught us to serve with a heart full of love and that America’s heart is full of love.”

She also said she was pleased to be speaker of the House in the 100th year since women won the right to vote in the US.

Ms Pelosi said: “This House will be for the people to lower health costs and prescription drugs prices, and protect people with pre-existing conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure – from sea to shining sea.”

Speaker-designate Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gives a double thumbs up on her way into the chamber
Image:Nancy Pelosi gives a double thumbs up on her way into the chamber…
Speaker-designate Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) takes the oath during the first session of the 116th Congress
Image:… and is sworn in

She urged Congress to be “pioneers of the future” saying it must “accelerate a future that advances America’s preeminence in the world”.

She said this should include “workplace development, good paying jobs and secure pensions” for American citizens.

In addition to being the most diverse, the new Congress is also the first to convene during a partial government shutdown, as Donald Trump refuses to budge in his demands for $5.6bn to build a border wall with Mexico.

U.S. Representative-elect Ilhan Omar (D-MI) chats to children in the House Chamber
Image:Ilhan Omar chats to children in the House

Democrats want to pass legislation that will allow the government to reopen – but without the funding Mr Trump is demanding.

However, Senate Republicans have no plans to consider new bills to fund the government unless Mr Trump signs them into law, thus appearing to ensure the shutdown will continue.

The standoff will cloud the first few days of the session.

A record 110 women will sit in the US Congress.

Newly elected representatives brought their children to Washington DC for the swearing-in, and posed for photographs after taking the oath of office.

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) poses for a selfie before the swearing-in
Image:Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez poses for a selfie before the swearing-in

They were pictured talking excitedly to one another and veterans of the House as they prepared for the ceremony.

New senators found their desks and some looked inside to see whether their predecessors had left their signatures.

Vice President Mike Pence swore in the new senators in groups of four.

Rick Scott, currently governor of Florida, was not sworn in, as he has been given permission to finish his term as governor before joining the House on 8 January.

Senators Martha McSally and Kirsten Sinema were both sworn in despite running against each other. Although Ms Sinema won, Ms McSally was chosen to replace the late John McCain.

Ms Pelosi returns to the Speaker role after eight years in the minority and overcame internal opposition from those Democrats demanding a new generation of leaders.

She will be the first to regain the gavel since Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) before the swearing in ceremony
Image:Deb Haaland before the swearing in ceremony

She leads a new generation being dubbed “representative democracy”, as those in the house begin to look more and more like the make-up of the melting pot US.

But she may not see eye-to-eye to everyone, including the youngest woman to be elected to the House, Alexandria Oscario-Cortez, who has already said she will vote against a new package of rules to govern the chamber.

The 29-year-old is one of several liberals who oppose the pay-as-you-go budget provisions which they say will hamper their efforts to invest in health care, education and renewable energy deals.

Among the other history-makers in the House is Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, a Muslim who came to the US as a refugee from Somalia.

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She tweeted: “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

More from Congress

  • Protests as Congress approves Donald Trump’s victory

Rashida Tlaib is the other of the two Muslim women who are the first in the House.

Deb Haaland and Sharice Davis have become the first Native American women in the House, while Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia are Texas’ first Latina Congresswomen.

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