What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

With incoming lawmakers, Congress makes a historic shift

Washington will be seeing some new faces come January. The 116th Congress -- with more women, people of color and LGBTQ members -- will be the most diverse ever. Lisa Desjardins joins Amna Nawaz to take a closer look.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This January, there will be some new faces in Washington. A number of incumbent members of Congress lost their seats in this week's election, after a year marked by several retirements and resignations.

    Amna Nawaz and Lisa Desjardins explore what the next Congress will look like.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, from women to veterans to people of color, how will the new members of the 116th Congress differ from their predecessors?

    Our own Lisa Desjardins covers Congress and has been getting to know the new lawmakers she will be covering.

    You have been crunching those numbers all day, getting your head around it.

    Before we dig into the details, though, big picture, how different is the new Congress going to be from the last one?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is an historic shift in who will be serving the people of America. Let's look at incumbents, for example, who actually will be in office.

    And, you know, this year was a record year for retirements, and also we saw defeats. Amna, there will be 101 members of Congress who serve right now who are leaving and will no longer be there in January. That is the most since 1993.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Wow.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You have to go back to the '50s to find another year like this, so it's a generational change.

    Also, they are younger, the people coming in now. The average age of — in fact, 25 members of the new class are under — are 40 years old or under, and it includes the very first two women ever to be elected to Congress under the age of 30.

    Overall, this new group of members of Congress, their average age is 10 years younger than the members of Congress sitting now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is a huge shift.

    Let's look at the parties individually now, because they're changing to different degrees, right?

    Let's look at the Democrats first. When you look at the House Democrats coming into this new Congress, what changes are we seeing?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, right at the top, women. That's one reason that Democrats were able to take over the House.

    And if you see, they're actually adding a net total of 28 new women to their ranks. Now, this is net. There were some women. There are more women than that who are new members, but they had some women retire.

    In addition, people of color, a net gain of 12. That's really almost evenly divided between blacks and Hispanics. But very notable, there are two Native American members of the Democratic Caucus. Right now, there are only two other Native Americans in Congress at all. And they are Republicans. So that's an important new perspective that Democrats will get.

    And then LGBTQ, there will be a net gain of one. However, there are some outstanding races that could affect that number.

    Veterans, there will be six new Democratic members who are veterans, and then that's something that obviously Democrats wanted to put on the ballot. And six of their Democratic veterans won.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So that's on the Democratic side when it comes to the House, a lot of change we're seeing there.

    How about the Republicans? Similar change?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, the Republicans lost seats. And they have lost seats in some of these areas.

    So, overall, we will see seven fewer women in the House Republican Conference, three fewer people of color. And that in large part is due to losses in places like Florida, where Carlos Curbelo lost to a fellow Hispanic who is a Democrat.

    LGBTQ, there is no change. That's because there are no Republican members who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And new veterans, Republicans will see a big gain in that. Actually, we will — they will see new members, 10 new members who are veterans of the U.S. military.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So these are the House numbers. What about the Senate?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, so the Senate actually is going to look a lot like it does now, with one exception.

    There overall will be three new women. We know that because some of them were appointed and won elections. Even though we saw Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill lose, we saw other women win.

    And we're waiting on the Arizona race, where two women are running. So that will be a gain. More women, but otherwise, in diversity, the Senate will look just as it does now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And speaking of races we are still waiting on the results for, we should note these numbers are based on the results that we have.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are a number of races outstanding. What do we know about those?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's not over, people.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, here we go.

    In these — these yellow states are states where we have Senate races going down to the wire, or we're going to have a run-off, like in Mississippi. And it's interesting. In these three states, Republicans at this moment have the advantage, but it's hard to say. There could be recounts. We will see what happens.

    These dots on the map, these are House races. Now, these races, as the accounts were coming in, seem to be evenly split in the way they're leaning between Republicans and Democrats. But all of this will have a big effect on the makeup of the House and the Senate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Lisa, I want to ask, because, obviously, there's been a longstanding criticism that Congress as a representative body doesn't exist mirror the general demographics of the country it's supposed to be serving, right?

    Has that become more true, less true with this Congress? How representative are they?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Like everything these days, there are two ways to look at that.

    The first is that this will be the most diverse Congress this country's ever seen. There's no question about it. It'll have the most gender balance. It will have more ethnic and racial minorities in it that we have seen, and more lesbian, gays, and bisexuals.

    However, it still will not remotely approach what this country itself looks like. Right now, about 40 percent of this country is non-white. And, of course, half of the country is made up of women. Neither the Senate nor the House looks remotely like that.

    And you can take out some subcategories, like African-Americans. Right now, there are three African-Americans in the Senate. There have only been five in the entire U.S. history in the Senate since Reconstruction who have been elected to the Senate.

    So, some gains, but, when it comes to Congress, a long way to go. And it's especially a challenge, as we saw in these numbers, for Republicans, who say they want to have diversity in their conferences, but they lost some this year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So here is the million-dollar question. What does all of this mean for how they're able to do the job that they're sent there to do, how they're able to legislate? What can we say about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, it's a big question.

    And I think we will especially be watching the House, where Democrats have taken over, and we see this sort of change in their demographics. Younger members I think are more interested in some more controversial issues. We see them talking about guns more, like Jason Crow, who is one of the new Democratic members.

    And I think that they're going to come in, much as we saw the Republicans who formed the Freedom Caucus a few years ago, and they're going to try to demand more progressive, more aggressive change.

    How the leaders, who have been there for much longer, of the Democratic Party react is something we will be following very closely.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You will be following very closely, indeed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa Desjardins, with some really important numbers and context, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    My pleasure.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest