The House of Representatives that takes the oath of office on Tuesday will include its first Indian-American woman. The Senate will have a record number of women, including its first Latina.
The new Congress reflects the diversity of America, but also the sharply different makeups of the two political parties. White men will account for 87% of House Republicans, the same as last session, but only 41% of House Democrats, a 2% drop from the prior Congress, according to figures compiled by the Cook Political Report.
The racial composition of each party’s congressional wing mirrors the voters who elected it: Some 87% of President-elect Donald Trump’s votes this year came from whites, compared with only 55% of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s votes.
That leaves each party with challenges. The Democratic membership of Congress is racially diverse and largely metropolitan, holding districts in and around cities and along the two coasts. Some Democrats say the party has to do more to speak to voters in the middle of the country, particularly working-class white voters, many of them former Democrats who abandoned the party.
THE TRUMP TRANSITION
Rep. Tim Ryan (D., Ohio) said that was one reason he challenged—unsuccessfully—Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California for the post of House minority leader. “A lot of our caucus is bicoastal. States like Ohio don’t have the kind of representation … that we need to take the majority back,” he told reporters in November, as he weighed whether to challenge Mrs. Pelosi.
“We’re coming into a Congress in which the white working class completely left Democrats,” said Josh Huder, senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.
Republicans, for their part, have a congressional wing that remains largely white at a time when the nation is growing more diverse. Many GOP leaders have said the party needs to do more to reach the growing Hispanic and Asian-American voter groups, as well as African-Americans.
New Republicans in Congress include several military veterans, including retired Marine Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman, of Michigan, and Brian Mast, a combat veteran from Florida. Mr. Mast lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan in 2010, when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath his feet.
The soon-to-be Florida lawmaker is of Mexican descent, but that isn’t a feature of his background that he used to connect with Hispanics during his campaign.
“If you’re picking any demographic that you want to see multiply, it would be the demographic of veterans,” he said. “When we’re on the battlefield we’re not looking at color or gender. I think that’s what you want in Congress.”
For the first time, the Senate freshman class will have more women than men. Of the seven new senators, four are women, all of them Democrats.
In addition to former New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, the new women in the Senate include Kamala Harris of California, who is both the first Indian-American and second African-American senator; Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who is the first Latina senator; and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, the first Thai-American in the chamber.
These additions bring the number of women to a record 21, up from 20 in the last Senate.
Diverse perspectives are important when considering legislation said Pramila Jayapal a Democrat from Washington, who will be the first Indian-American woman to hold a seat in the House.
“It’s not about just the color of our skin or just how we look,” Ms. Jayapal said. “It’s the fact that when we chair hearings, when we listen to testimony, when we craft legislation, we are doing that with our own very personal experiences.”
The average years of service for House members in the new Congress is 9.3 years, or 4.6 terms, and the average time for members in the Senate is 10.1 years. The average age for a representative is 57.8 years, and the average age of a Senator is 61.8 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.