December 2016

Women Bring Diversity to 115th Congress

Senator Kamala HarrisSenator Kamala Harris

Senator Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris celebrated her victory in the Senate race for California at a rally in downtown Los Angeles.

Women make up a little more than half of the U.S. population, but only hold 20 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress. But when the 115th Congress meets in January 2017, the newly elected women will bring more diversity to the Senate and the House of Representatives. A record number of Asian-Pacific American, African American, and Hispanic American women, a total of 38, will be in Congress this coming term. As these Congresswomen begin their new jobs, they will be a part of the most diverse Congress in history. Although Congress still does not fully mirror America’s diversity, it is starting to look more like the country it represents.

In January, the total number of women in the U.S. Senate will be 21. Tammy Duckworth, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Kamala Harris were elected as Senators on November 8, 2016. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will be the first Thai American to serve in the Senate. She is also a veteran who lost her legs and partial use of one arm in a helicopter crash during the Iraq War. Catherine Cortez Masto will become the first Latina senator, representing Nevada. Kamala Harris will represent California and will be the first Indian American senator and the second African American female senator.

Harris grew up in Berkeley, California. Her mother was born in India, and her father was born in Jamaica. After going to college and law school, Harris became a deputy district attorney. She next became a district attorney and then served as California’s attorney general before running for Senate. While part of her platform was improving the criminal justice system, she also campaigned on other causes, such as protecting the environment and immigration reform.

In the House of Representatives, Lisa Blunt Rochester will be the first woman and first African American to represent Delaware. Pramila Jayapal will be the first Indian American woman to serve in the House. She is from Washington State. Stephanie Murphy will become the first Vietnamese American female member of the House. She will represent Florida. A total of 83 women will be serving in the House of Representatives when the 115th Congress begins its work.

Stephanie Murphy and her family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when she was a year old. She grew up in Virginia and went to college and graduate school. While she has not held an elected office before, Murphy has served as a national security specialist in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. She has also been a businesswoman and a college instructor. She ran as a Democrat, but emphasized that she wanted to work with both Republicans and Democrats to improve the economy and government.

These newly elected senators and representatives are scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., in January to be sworn in. Then, they will begin working with their colleagues to make and amend legislation, or laws, that will have an impact on all Americans.

Image credit: ©Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Question 1
Which state will Stephanie Murphy represent in the U.S. Congress?

Question 2
What percent of the seats in Congress do women hold?

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