A record number of women will be elected to Congress this year, CNN projects — but barely.
The 149 women who will serve in the U.S. House and Senate during the 118th Congress will expand the number of female representatives by just two members above this Congress’ record.
Alaska swept women over that threshold Wednesday night when the state determined through its ranked-choice voting system that Representative Mary Peltola, a Democrat, will represent the state House seat for a full term after winning the special election earlier this year, while Senator Lisa Murkowski will win re-election.
Women will set an overall record in the House, with 124 taking office in January.
And not only will women of color break records during the 118th Congress, but there will be record numbers of Latinas and black women in the House alone. There will be four more Latinas in the House for a total of 18 — the most ever — and one more Black woman, taking their total from 26 to 27.
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More than half of the House’s incoming class of 22 freshman women will be women of color, demonstrating that chamber’s increasing diversity.
“We’ve seen a fairly steady increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of women as candidates, nominees, and then office holders at the congressional level, but more specifically in the U.S. House,” said Kelly Dittmar, research director for the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.
“That diversity is still sorely lacking in the U.S. Senate. … We’re seeing stagnation there in terms of the number of women of color overall. The number of Asian and Latino women in particular will remain the same, and the number of Black women will remain the same to zero.”
Rep.-elect Sydney Kamlager of California is one of those new voices coming to the House. As the state senator, she was elected to replace outgoing Representative Karen Bass, who will become Los Angeles’ first female mayor. Kamlager said that while she is excited about the diversity of the freshman class, there is still a long way to go.
“I think people need to stop paying lip service to black women and brown women and put the money where their mouth is. The fact remains that black and brown women face higher barriers to entry in this work than other women and men,” the Democrat said. “When we enter, our contributions are less often than men. We are held to higher and double standards,” she added, pointing out that women candidates are still often asked why they are not “at home to look after your man or take care of your children”.
“People are okay with a mediocre male candidate, but expect the female candidate to be off the charts,” she said.
Representative Elect Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat, is the first Latina elected to Congress from Colorado. As a state representative and the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, she will also be only the second female doctor to vote in Congress. (The first, Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier, won reelection in Washington state.)
“A little sad that it lasted until 2022,” Caraveo said, reflecting on both milestones.
Her experience in medicine and state politics, she said, prepared her to work harder to get “less credit” than her male counterparts.
“It’s unfortunately something I’ve seen over my time, both in medicine and in politics, and unfortunately it’s a challenge that leaves you sore in some ways, but also in other ways.” says Caraveo, a pediatrician.
“Even members of my staff, you know, when they came on board really noticed the different way I was treated or perceived as a woman of color compared to some of the other candidates who were more easily able to get meetings or support from different groups,” she added.
Marking the milestone
Yet the moment is not lost on these women.
“In Colorado, I didn’t grow up to be what I am today,” Caraveo said. “The idea of being the first Latina — so not just that it’s a woman, but it’s a woman of color — serving in Congress, I hope it will make things a little bit easier for the little girls I have taken care at the clinic. So that one day they don’t have to talk about being the first somewhere, their candidacy and their ability to be in office is just a given.”
And Caraveo, who will represent a new district that Colorado won in the redistricting process, also stressed the importance of what more female representation could mean for legislation.
“That sense of cooperation with which we approach things is very different from, I think, what my male counterparts tend to do,” she said.
Across the aisle, Republicans will break records for the number of women serving in both the House and Senate. Murkowski and Republican Senator Katie Britt of Alabama help bring the number of Republican women in the Senate to nine, the highest number ever. And 33 Republican women will serve in the House next year, a new record up from 32 this year.
The incoming class of seven House Republican freshmen includes three Latinas, bringing the total number of Republican Latinas in the House to five.
“Having the diversity of thought and experience is, you know, it’s critical to our representative democracy,” said Rep.-elect Erin Houchin, noting that she is the first woman to represent her district in Indiana.
“It feels like we’re accomplishing something for the next generation,” she said. “It’s especially meaningful for me to give that example to my own daughters, to young women.”
Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio has already seen and beat many records as the longest-serving woman in the House. If she is sworn in for another term in January, shortly after her first competitive reelection in years, she will become the longest-serving woman in all of Congress, breaking the record held by former Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
Kaptur, who was first elected in 1982, has raised the alarm that her party is dominated by leadership from the coasts, while domestic and industrial America – and the struggling middle class – are often forgotten in Washington.
“My most heartwarming achievement is that the term represents a voice of the working class, who just so happens to be a woman,” she said.
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