Diversity in the 113th Congress

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The recently sworn-in 113th Congress has the most diverse membership in the history of our country’s government. As 82 new House members and 14 new senators assume their Congressional responsibilities, we will notice new firsts in the gender, racial, and ethnic composition of Congress. For the first time, the majority of House Democrats are made up of women, blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities – almost 60 percent of the Democratic caucus.

There are 98 women in the new Congress (78 in the House and 20 in the Senate). This represents an increase in the number of women elected to both chambers – a gain of 5 seats over the last Congress. California, New Hampshire, and Washington each elected two women senators, and New Hampshire voted in its first all-female delegation. Elizabeth Warren (Democrat) is the first women elected to the Senate from Massachusetts. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland is the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

While 94 percent of the U.S. Senate is white, 19% of the House of Representatives is made up of minority groups. There are 28 Hispanics serving in the House— 25 Democrats and three Republicans. The Senate is made up of 1% African American, I % Asian, 2% Hispanic, 2% not Stated, and 94% White. The House is made up of 9% African American, 25% Asian, 1% Japanese American, 1% Asian American, 5% not stated, and 77% White.  The only Native American in Congress is Tom Cole, the Republican Representative from Oklahoma. Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat from Hawaii, the single Pacific Islander, is also the first Hindu and one of the first female combat veterans in this Congress.

The religious make up of Congress is also becoming more diverse. The percentage of Protestants declined from 57.3% in the 112th Congress to 56.4% in the 113th. Fifty years ago almost 75% of the members identified themselves as being Protestant. The number of Catholics in Congress increased. The Senate has its first Buddhist member and the House has its first Hindu member.

More firsts, Tammy Baldwin (Democrat from Wisconsin) is the first openly gay U.S. Senator, and Kyrsten Sinema (Republican from Arizona) is the first openly bi-sexual member of the House.

Not all of the data on the composition of the new Congress reflect increasing diversity. The only new Hispanic member of the Senate is Ted Cruz, a conservative Texas Republican. The Senate’s only new black member, Tim Scott (South Carolina), was appointed to fill the seat of retiring Senator Jim DeMint. Senator Scott is the first black Republican senator since 1979 and the first black Congress person to represent a Southern state since 1881.

This increasing diversity reflects changing demographics of our county’s population and changing public attitudes about who voters select.  Shifting demographics could mark a “sea change” in Congress, but political writer John Nichols cautions, “We have to be very, very cautious about presuming that simply having a more diverse Congress means that we’re going to get better results,”[1] Increasing racial, ethnic, gender and religious diversity is important, but that diversity is concentrated in the Democratic membership of Congress, and the Senate composition continues to have minimal diverse representation.  Will the individuals that represent an increasingly diverse America be able to contribute to improved decision making and less gridlock in Congress? For these senators and representatives to become real leaders in the new Congress, they will need to acquire influential committee positions, form powerful voting blocks, and use leverage strategies to pass bills to improve education and services to the children and families they represent. Will they promote legislation that establishes greater equity in education, immigration policies, health care, and other supports to make it possible for children to be safe, healthy, and well educated?  How might having more diversity among  Congressional membership improve collaboration and the collective work necessary to accomplish better lawmaking. It will be fascinating to study the dynamics in Congress and learn how to use increasing diversity in ways that lead to more productive outcomes on the Hill and legislation that advances an equity agenda.



Congressional demographics. (2013, January). Congress.orgRetrieved from http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/demographics.tt?catid=ethnic&chamber=house

More women, ethnic minorities among those storming Hill. The Washington Times. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/7/113th-congress-mirrors-increasingly-diverse-us/?page=1

Newly sworn-in 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, but not the most progressive. (2013, January). Democracy Now!  Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/4/newly_sworn_in_113th_congress_is

Roberts, A. (2013, January 5). By the numbers: 113th Congress. CNN Library.  Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/03/politics/btn-113th-congress/index.html?hpt=po_c1

Sands, D. (2013, January 7) 113th Congress mirrors increasingly diverse U.S.





[1] Newly sworn-in 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, but not the most progressive. (2013, January). Democracy Now!  Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/4/newly_sworn_in_113th_congress_is



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