Congress's freshman class: Will new lawmakers change the face of Washington? (+video)
The newest members of Congress will bring gender and racial diversity to Capitol Hill.
Washington — Congress' approval rating hovers around 15 percent, but there's one group of people excited about the institution: the newly elected lawmakers who are about to join its ranks.
The House will welcome 58 freshmen this coming week, including 43 Republicans and 15 Democrats, pushing the GOP majority to 246 members, the most since the Great Depression.
In the Senate, 13 new lawmakers, all but one of them Republican, will be sworn in, flipping control of the chamber to the GOP with a 54-vote majority.
The incoming classes will bring new gender and racial diversity to Capitol Hill, with 104 women in the House and Senate and close to 100 black, Hispanic and Asian lawmakers. The newcomers include the youngest woman elected to Congress, 30-year-old Elise Stefanik of New York, and the first black Republican woman, Mia Love of Utah.
As the new members prepared to arrive on Capitol Hill, several said they brought hopes of curbing the often partisan atmosphere in Washington, showing the public that they really can govern and, just maybe, getting Congress' approval rating back up past 20 percent.
"This election was not an endorsement of either party, it was a condemnation of, yes, the president's policies, but also of government dysfunction," said GOP Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo, who defeated a Democratic incumbent in Florida. "I hope we can be different. ... I hope we focus on getting things done."
A few of the notable new arrivals:
Stefanik, a Republican, is one of several young new faces bringing fresh blood to Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers, especially senators, are in their 70s or even older. Others are Democrats Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who is 36, and Ruben Gallego of Arizona, who's 35. The three all graduated from Harvard University and have friends in common, Gallego said.
Gallego said the three have already discussed areas of cooperation, such as infrastructure investments and bringing down the cost of college.
"We have talked actually a lot, and I can definitely see us working together," Gallego said. "We all want the same things in the general scheme of things — a stable country, a prosperous future. We may not agree 100 percent on how to get there, but I think Democrats and Republicans do want to find a way."
The Experienced Hands
Two of the newcomers to Congress are not new to Washington at all.
In Michigan, Democrat Debbie Dingell is replacing her husband, John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress, who retired after nearly 60 years.
In Virginia, Republican Barbara Comstock is replacing her onetime boss, Frank Wolf, whom she served as a top aide and chief counsel on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before joining the Virginia House of Delegates.
Dingell and Comstock are friendly and have spoken about how they can collaborate and improve relations and policy making on Capitol Hill.
"People don't get to know each other, and that relationship-building and that sense of trust and knowing each other is part of what's missing," said Dingell, who wrote a master's thesis on civility in Congress. "And we've got to find ways for people to get to know each other and talk."
Comstock, who has started a women's leadership initiative in Virginia, said she, Dingell and other female lawmakers have met together and hope to forge coalitions.
"Debbie has been a great leader on her side and she knows Washington also so I think we will probably team up," Comstock said. Although they're from different parties, "Sometimes people get caught up in the labels. Good ideas are good ideas."
The new Republican Diversity
GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate remain overwhelmingly white and male, but some of the new Republican arrivals break that mold.
In addition to Stefanik, a woman, and Curbelo, who is Hispanic, the GOP now claims two black House members, Love and Will Hurd of Texas. There is also one black senator, 10 Hispanic House members and two Hispanic senators. There are 22 Republican women in the House and six in the Senate.
The newcomers could add diversity of ideas to the Republican conference. Curbelo said he would push House GOP leaders to support immigration overhaul legislation, something the party has resisted.
"Of course as a freshman our influence is limited but we can work within our class, our freshman class to build support," Curbelo said.
The military vetrans
A number of the new arrivals have served in the military, something that has become increasingly rare on Capitol Hill.
Moulton and Gallego both served with the Marines in Iraq, while another incoming freshman, Republican Lee Zeldin of New York, served with the Army there.
Republican Sen.-elect Joni Ernst of Iowa is an Iraq War veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. Republican Rep.-elect Martha McSally of Arizona is a retired Air Force colonel and the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. She told "Fox News Sunday" that military veterans bring a problem-solving perspective.
"We're very solution-oriented, we're very pragmatic," McSally said Sunday. "You can't be in the war you want to be in, you got to be in the war you're in, and you got to just get the job done."