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Record Numbers Of Women, Minorities Make Up Incoming Congress


And new members of the next Congress have arrived in Washington for a week of orientation before taking office, even as a handful of congressional seats remain undecided. The freshman class is overwhelmingly Republican, and it includes a record number of women and minorities, but as NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports, fewer military veterans.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Service in the military has long been a great credential for a candidate. This year, four newly elected senators and at least 11 incoming House members, depending on final results in races still up in the air, are veterans. There's Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton who served in Iraq and delivered this victory speech last week.


REPRESENTATIVE SETH MOULTON: My commitment to public service started in college with the decision to join the Marines from the examples set by the greatest generation, who answered the call during World War II and continued to serve after they came home.

GONYEA: But this year, that reference to World War II vets is poignant because the next session is set to be the first since World War II not to feature a single veteran of that war. Since the '80s, the number of veterans in Congress overall has declined steadily. Today they make up fewer than 1 in 5 members of the House and Senate combined.

The incoming freshman class will be part of a Congress with a record number of women, though the overall number is only about 25 percent. Minority members are also at an all-time high, with conservative Mia Love, a Mormon from Utah, poised to become the first Republican African-American woman in Congress.


MIA LOVE: Many of the naysayers out there said that Utah would never elect a black, Republican, LDS woman to Congress.


LOVE: We - not only did we do it; we were the first to do it.


GONYEA: Another first - there will no longer be a white Democrat from the Deep South in the House. Frances Lee of the University of Maryland sees it as the extinction of a once-dominant wing of the Democratic Party. And while those Southern Democrats had a history of working with presidents of both parties, the Republicans who replaced them are a very different breed.

FRANCES LEE: The Republicans elected from the South endanger themselves politically by being seen as working too closely with Democrats of any stripes. These days, representatives and senators elected from the South have no such incentives to work across party lines.

GONYEA: Also worth highlighting is the number of new faces in the congressional delegation of one state, Michigan. Five new House members, three of them Republicans, and one new U.S. senator, a Democrat. But what's really significant for the state is the huge hit in seniority in the next session. The dean of the U.S. House, John Dingell, elected in 1955 and who has the longest congressional career in history, is retiring, as is Michigan's six-term U.S. Senator Carl Levin. Both are Democrats. Here's Bill Ballenger of the publication Inside Michigan Politics.

BILL BALLENGER: We are losing, with the departure of just two men, nearly a century - 95 years to be exact - of experience in the Congress.

GONYEA: And on the Republican side, in the U.S. House Michigan is losing two important and highly regarded chairmen - Mike Rogers of the Intelligence Committee and Dave Camp of Ways and Means. Combined they have 38 years seniority. Again, Bill Ballenger.

BALLENGER: They're leaving at the end of the year. And it's going to be a whole new ballgame starting from the bottom for the freshman coming to replace them.

GONYEA: The 114th Congress begins work in January with storylines to watch even before the political battles begin. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.