The freshmen of the 113th Congress walk to their class photo shoot on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on November 15, 2012. Photo By Douglas Graham/ CQ Roll Call.
While some members of the 113th Congress took their first steps up to Capitol Hill to take the oath of office Thursday, many lawmakers never left. An overwhelming 90 percent of House members running for re-election regained their seats, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Government.
For these legislators, the new term arrived early as they plodded into the new year with long and late-night sessions to forge an agreement on the fiscal cliff. Now 94 new members will take their seats next to the seasoned, bringing fresh perspectives and demographics to the makeup of the 113th Congress. Here’s a look at some of the most notable figures and facts about the freshman class.
Historically Congress has been run by older white men. Though that’s still the case, this will be the first time in which the majority of House democrats are minorities or women, making up the most diverse House Democratic caucus ever. There’s a record five incoming Asian-Americans, five members in the Congressional Black Caucus and nine Hispanics. A record 28 Hispanic members will serve in the House, and with the addition of Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, the Senate matches its 2008 record of three Hispanic members.
Incoming Asian-American Tammy Duckworth is one to watch as she begins her term as a Democratic representative of Illinois. A double-amputee veteran of the Iraq War, she’s a strong advocate of equal rights for military women. She’s actively voiced her support of abortion rights and health care as she ascended to office.
The 2012 elections put a spotlight on women, and don’t expect they’ll fade into the governmental background anytime soon. A record number of women will serve in the 113th Congress, holding 20 seats in the Senate and 82 in the House. The freshmen class welcomes the most incoming female members since 1992, which was nicknamed the “Year of the Woman.”
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin boasts another first for the newcomers as the only openly gay member of the Senate. There will be six openly-gay members serving now, boosting the number from four in the last Congress.
The incoming class is increasingly religiously diverse, according to a Pew Research study. While the majority of Congress is Protestant, the proportion continues to decline as it has for decades. Though the House lost its lone atheist — Rep. Pete Stark of California — in the general election, it gained its first Hindu member. Hawaii Rep.Tulsi Gabbard began her service career at 21 when she was elected to the state legislature. She is also an Iraq War veteran. “When I volunteered to put my life on the line in defense of our country, no one asked me what my religion was,” she has said.
Sen. Brian Schatz is another Hawaiian relatively new to Congress. At 40, Schatz was the youngest senator in the 112th Congress, but he will now serve as Hawaii’s senior representative in the 113th. Schatz replaced the the late Sen. Daniel Inouye on Dec. 27, one week before the incoming Congress convened. For more on Schatz. Also representing Hawaii is Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono. At 66, she’s also the oldest freshman member of the Senate.
The average age of the 112th Congress: 57 years old in the House, 62 years old in the Senate — one of the oldest in recent history. The 113th isn’t much different: The average age of the newly-elected House members is 58 and the average age of senators is 61.
Wednesday marked another first among the older echelon of Congressional members: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became Nevada’s longest serving member of Congress. He has served in the House and Senate for a combined 10,957 days, or about 30 years. Reid was first sworn into the House of Representatives in 1983, which happens to be the year that the youngest freshman House member — Florida Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy — was born.