Democrats Craft a House Majority For the Future

The 116th Congress was sworn on Wednesday and, in the House of Representatives, numerous glass ceilings were shattered.

  • Largest number of women serving (102)
  • Largest Black Caucus in history
  • Largest Hispanic Caucus in history
  • First two Native American women members (Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland)
  • First two Muslim women members (Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib)
  • First two openly lesbian members (Sharice Davids and Angie Craig)

In case you weren’t able to follow the festivities, I thought I’d bring you a few of my favorite highlights. While this is Nancy Pelosi’s second tenure as Speaker, the events of the last couple of years make this one feel even more significant than the last time she served in that role. Here is the wonderful moment when she was sworn in:

Rep. Ilhan Omar is also the first Somali-American to serve in congress. As she arrived at the airport in Washington, she noted the history.

This might have been my favorite moment of the day:

Overall, this clip captured the way a lot of people felt:

Here’s a good look at the new wave of Democrats:

There are so many powerful stories to be told about that new class of Democrats that it’s hard to capture them all. But perhaps because I closely followed the trial of the man who shot and killed Jordan Davis, one of my favorites is the one about how his mother, Lucy McBath, is now serving in congress and yesterday told a crowd that “there is nothing more fierce than a mother on a mission.”

When it comes to how this Democratic majority will be different than the one Speaker Pelosi led the last time, Ron Brownstein broke it down.

The new Democratic majority that takes command of the House on Thursday starts with 21 fewer seats than the party held the last time it elected Nancy Pelosi as speaker. But this new majority may prove easier for the party to both manage legislatively and defend electorally.

Though slightly smaller, the Democratic caucus that’s assuming power is far more ideologically and geographically cohesive than the party’s previous majority 10 years ago. While the 2009 class included a large number of Democrats from blue-collar, culturally conservative, rural seats that were politically trending away from the party, the new majority revolves around white-collar and racially diverse urban and suburban districts that are trending toward it.

On Twitter, Dave Weigel suggested that Brownstein’s analysis was both “big and underrated.” He pointed out that, “There has never — never! — been a House Democratic majority without a powerful bloc of southern conservatives. And now there is.”

Recently Christopher Hooks reminded us that the “Republicanization of Texas took nearly half a century to enact.” The process involved all of the old Dixiecrats eventually becoming Republicans and the Democratic Party entering what looked to be a permanent minority status in the state. That didn’t just happen in Texas, it was replicated in all of the former Confederate states.

However, in 2018, not only did Beto O’Rourke make history by coming within a couple of percentage points of beating Republican Ted Cruz, but Colin Allred defeated Pete Sessions, one of the most powerful Republicans in the House. In Harris County, Texas, 17 black female judges were sworn in on Tuesday. Those are just two examples to illustrate that, as the Dixiecrats go, a whole new Democratic Party is beginning to emerge in the south. Weigel is right to say that what is happening is both “big and underrated.”

Brownstein goes on to suggest that this Democratic House will be much more united on issues such as commonsense gun safety measures, immigration, and climate change, while there will still be tension over fiscal issues and government spending. Here’s how he concludes:

That doesn’t guarantee them success at either passing an agenda or defending their majority in 2020. But on both fronts, it does mean that they are rowing with the current of change in the party—and not against it…

Steering that ship will be the job of Nancy Pelosi, and I can’t think of anyone who is better prepared to take on that task.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.