Class is in session, kids. The newly elected members of the 116th Congress arrived in Washington, D.C. this week for the start of their congressional orientation, and some of the congresswomen-elect are already making a splash.
Progressive darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset in the NY-14 primary led her to become the youngest congresswoman in history, made headlines Tuesday when she joined environmental activists protesting outside of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's office. One of the demands was for House members to create a Green New Deal addressing climate change. Ocasio-Cortez told reporters: "This is not about personality, this is not about rebuke, this is not about confrontation — it’s about making sure that we are getting the job done."
The move is just another reminder that the new House class is of a different political breed. Thanks in great part to the gains made by Democrats, the incoming Congress is set to be the most female, most diverse ever, both racially and ideologically. (For example, more than 100 women won their races across the country.) The class is full of members making history: youngest congresswoman, first Indigenous women and first Muslim women elected to Congress, first Latinas representing Texas, first openly bisexual woman representing California, first Black women to represent Massachusetts and Connecticut, first Ecuadorean-American in the House, and the list goes on and on.
Nothing exemplified this more than a viral photo of elected Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez at VoteRunLead's Women & Power: National Town Hall. The photo, posted by Ocasio-Cortez with the caption "Squad," served as a reminder that the incoming House class will look more like America than ever before. And that's a good thing.
"We love that this photo is being recognized as #SquadGoals because that is exactly what women bring to government. They band together to get things done," Erin Vilardi, CEO and founder of the nonprofit organization, said in a statement to Refinery29. "That’s why VoteRunLead is building squads like this in every state across America, because we know that when women come together, our democracy works better for everyone. And those are #SquadGoals we all should have."
Of course, not everyone has been excited about the new congresswomen. On Tuesday, Fox News host Laura Ingraham dedicated a 10-minute segment to criticize the four Democrats. Ingraham, whose racist dog whistles are infamous, called them "the four horsewomen of the apocalypse" and accused them of having "the most radical views in Congress" — such as calling for Medicare for All and tuition-free colleges.
Regardless of the criticism, the incoming class is having the time of their lives during orientation. In many ways, the two-week long affair (with a Thanksgiving break in the middle) is almost like being a freshman in college. New members meet their colleagues, get temporary IDs that will be replaced with House pins once they are sworn in this coming January, and take the opportunity to look for housing in the city. The biennial tradition includes nonpartisan seminars, in which the members learn the basics of becoming a congressperson, and receptions, i.e. code for a ton of parties.
The orientation also makes it real for people that they're going to be sitting in Congress, one would argue even more so than Election Night. And the women who got elected are savoring every moment. Congresswoman-elect Abby Finkenauer of Iowa wrote on Twitter: "Just walked onto the floor of the US House of Representatives for the first time as a member-elect. I sat there in gratitude and respect for my home, my state, my district and the work that lies ahead. I walked out looking up to that quote. Fitting. So much hope. Ready to serve."
Just walked onto the floor of the US House of Representatives for the first time as a member-elect. I sat there in gratitude and respect for my home, my state, my district and the work that lies ahead. I walked out looking up to that quote. Fitting. So much hope. Ready to serve. pic.twitter.com/mhkvk73t74— Abby Finkenauer (@Abby4Iowa) November 14, 2018
Lauren Underwood, the first Black person and first woman to represent IL-14, shared a similar picture on Twitter. She wrote: "Excited to get to work alongside new colleagues like Kendra Horn (Oklahoma's 5th District). So honored to walk onto the floor of the House as your congresswoman-elect — teared up during the Pledge of Allegiance."
The new crop of representatives will have a ton of work come January. With Democrats in control of the House and Republicans in control of the Senate and White House, there are questions of what policies will be able to get through the 116th Congress. Nevertheless, many of the representatives-elect have made it clear they're ready to fulfill their promise to serve the people, regardless of the internal squabble that has characterized Congress for a long time.
On Wednesday, the freshmen members gathered together outside of the U.S. Capitol to take their class photo. The number of diverse members was striking, reminding us it's a new day at Capitol Hill.