“It was a decision,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview about boosting the number of Democratic women in Congress. “We made a decision a long time ago that we were going to try to expand the number. We made a decision for women to help women, and also for the Democrats as a party to help recruit women and help fund campaigns.”
The overwhelming majority of lawmakers sworn in Thursday were white men. But the new Congress, while still lagging behind the nation as whole in diversity, reflects national demographic changes that hold significant implications for American politics.
Democrats think those changes give them a distinct political advantage in a nation in which whites make up a smaller part of the electorate. It also opens new avenues of fundraising to support their campaigns.
Republicans, too, see the value of diversity and have sought to highlight changes in the GOP. When Jim DeMint (S.C.) recently stepped down from the Senate, for instance, he was replaced by Tim Scott, giving Republicans a chance to claim the only African American in the Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), a Cuban American, also became an instant star among Republicans when he was elected.
Overall, though, Republicans have struggled to diversify their ranks, and the party was criticized after the presidential election for mainly appealing to an older, whiter coalition. Whether the GOP will adjust its positions to lure more votes from an increasingly diverse electorate is a key question likely to play out in the new Congress.
The Democratic diversity was on display Thursday during the vote for House speaker. Pelosi beamed as dozens of women and minorities called out her name as their choice over Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was narrowly elected by the Republican majority. Twice, her name was read aloud in Spanish.
For Pelosi, the moment probably paled in comparison to the day six years ago when she, in her words, “broke the marble ceiling” and was elected the nation’s first female speaker.
But for Pelosi, 72, who was one of 23 female lawmakers when she was first elected 25 years ago, Thursday had different rewards. Maybe no Democrat has been more central to the party’s diversity push than she has.
The House has 81 women, 61 of them Democrats. The Senate includes 20 women — still just a fifth of the chamber but an achievement striking enough that ABC News gathered the group together for a joint interview that aired on Thursday night.