More women than ever before in American history took oaths of office as members of the 113th Congress on Jan. 3. For the first time, a party—the Democratic Party—has more female and minority legislators than white male legislators.
“Incoming Senate members Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are the first women elected to the Senate from their states,” according to C-Span. Sen. Hirono is the first Asian-American woman in the Senate, and the first person born in Japan to be elected to the Senate.
Re-elected House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Congress took an oath to protect the Constitution and to protect the American people at the opening of the 113th Congress, which C-Span broadcast live.
Pelosi evoked the child victims of a December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and she asked legislators to take action to prevent future gun violence.
She praised “proud son of Ohio” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and called for cooperation, referencing President Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, optimistic that we may be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”
The re-elected Boehner welcomed the 84 freshman members, who he said may be awestruck upon entering the historic halls, and he said that the veteran members should try to recapture their sense of awe.
“We recognize the blessing we have in governing ourselves and recognize that it requires us to give of ourselves,” he said, adding that the oath makes no mention of party. “We are here not to be something, but to do something, or as I like to call it, doing the right thing.”
As Speaker, I pledge to listen.
—House Speaker John Boehner
He asked his colleagues to resolve the federal deficit and other economic problems. Both Pelosi and Boehner brought up issues on which their parties disagree: gun control and how to reduce the national debt.
“As Speaker, I pledge to listen,” said Boehner.
House Republicans also re-elected Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as Majority Leader and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Majority Whip.
Democrats reelected James Clyburn (D-S.C.) as Minority Leader and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as Minority Whip.
The House of Representatives now has 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats, with two seats waiting for special elections. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) left his seat due to health problems, and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was appointed to replace Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who retired.
The Senate now has 45 Republicans, 53 Democrats, and 2 Independents, who caucus with the Democrats. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) returned to work one year after a debilitating stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. He followed an intense rehabilitation regimen to regain the ability to walk and work.
Kirk told the Chicago Sun-Times that the experience changed his thinking about Medicaid, which pays for health care for poor people.
“Had I been limited to that, I would have had no chance to recover like I did,” he said. “So unlike before suffering the stroke, I’m much more focused on Medicaid and what my fellow citizens face.”
Vice President Joe Biden swore in the new senators. The Senate elected Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) as President Pro Tempore, Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as Majority Leader, and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as Minority Leader.
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