Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Congress still doesn’t fully reflect diversity

- By Lisa Mascaro

When lawmakers gathered for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the Republican side of the aisle looked slightly different than it did a few years ago.

Rather than row after row of white men in suits, the House Republican majority increasing­ly has added Black, Latino and female elected officials to their ranks, an effort toward bolstering GOP diversity that is helping to make the new Congress the most racially and ethnically diverse ever.

It is a slow yet unsteady progress toward a Congress more reflective of America. But it also spotlights a still stark gap on the House Republican side, where the new majority remains made up mostly of white male lawmakers, which does not fully capture the changing demographi­cs of the country.

“Diversity matters,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Every person who serves in office brings with them a set of life experience­s that shape their policy priorities, that shape how they see the world. It’s not that the experience­s of white men don’t matter, but they don’t matter — they shouldn’t matter — more than everybody else.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is largely responsibl­e for making strides at trying to diversify the Republican House. The California leader personally recruited and helped to elect more female candidates and people of color who delivered majority control.

McCarthy and his team worked to diversify their ranks during the 2022 midterm elections with dozens of Black, Hispanic and Asian American nominees on ballots nationwide, some of whom won office.

Still, compared with the diversity on the Democratic side of the aisle, the Republican tally remains slim.

There are four Black Republican­s in the House, twice as many as in the last session. That is a record for Republican­s in the 20th and 21st centuries.

But it is still fewer Black Republican­s in the House than during Reconstruc­tion, the era that followed the Civil War. As many as seven Black Republican­s served in the House during the 187577 session, according to the U.S. House Historical Office, and the House membership overall was much smaller.

Women gain

Women are making steady gains in the Republican Party in the House, with 33 GOP women in the House, according to the Center for Women in American Politics. That is up from 13 House Republican women in 2019.

But there are no Black Republican women in the House, compared with 27 Black women on the Democratic side, including some who have been powerful leaders and chairwomen wielding gavels.

Republican­s count five Latina women and two Asian Americans, a fraction of those the Democrats have elected, according to the Center for Women and Politics.

While the House freshman class includes seven new Republican women, the gains were essentiall­y offset by six Republican women leaving, the center said in its analysis of the new Congress.

House Republican­s have held steady with about a dozen Latino and Hispanic lawmakers, but overall the proportion of Latinos in Congress is less than in the U.S. population.

“This continues a longrunnin­g trend toward more racial and ethnic diversity on Capitol Hill: This is the seventh Congress to break the record set by the one before it,” said Pew Research Center, including senators in its tally.

But Pew reports a vast divide by party for the racial and ethnic minority members in the new Congress: 80% are Democrats, while 20% are Republican­s.

The report said that is similar to the last session of Congress. At that time, 83% of non-white lawmakers were Democrats and 17% were Republican­s.

Pew said 13 members of Congress identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, the highest number openly identified in history. Among the 11 openly gay or lesbian members of the House, one is a Republican, Rep. George Santos of New York.

The Senate shows strides, too, with 25 women this session, including nine Republican female senators, matching the record set in 2020, according the Center for Women and Politics.

Among the 100 senators, there is one Black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and two Black Democrats, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia.

There are no Black women elected to the Senate.

There are six Latino or Hispanic senators, including two Republican­s; and there are two Asian American senators, both Democrats.

One new Republican, Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, “a member of the Cherokee nation, is the first American Indian to serve in the Senate in almost two decades,” the Pew Report said.

 ?? SHAWN THEW - VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on March 1.
SHAWN THEW - VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on March 1.

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