WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES (AP) – When lawmakers gathered for United States (US) President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the Republican side of the aisle looked slightly different than it did a few years ago.
Rather than row after row of white men in suits, the House Republican majority increasingly has added Black, Latino and female elected officials to their ranks, an effort toward bolstering GOP diversity that’s helping to make the new congress the most racially and ethnically diverse ever.
It’s a slow yet unsteady progress toward creating a congress more reflective of America.
But it also spotlights a still stark gap on the House Republican side, where the new majority remains made up mostly of white, male lawmakers, which does not fully capture the changing demographics of the country. “Diversity matters,” said Director of the Centre for Women and Politics at Rutgers University Debbie Walsh.
“Every person who serves in office brings with them a set of life experiences that shape their policy priorities, that shape how they see the world,” Walsh said.
“It’s not that the experiences of white men don’t matter, but they don’t matter — they shouldn’t matter — more than everybody else.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is largely responsible for making strides at trying to diversify the Republican House.
The California leader personally recruited and helped to elect more female candidates and people of colour who delivered majority control.
McCarthy and his team worked to diversify their ranks during the 2022 midterm elections with dozens of Black, Hispanic and Asian American nominees on ballots nationwide, some of whom won office.
Still, compared with the diversity on the Democratic side of the aisle, the Republican tally remains slim.
There are four Black Republicans in the House — twice as many as in the last session.
That’s a record for Republicans in the 20th and 21stcenturies.
But it’s still fewer Black Republicans in the House than during Reconstruction, the era that followed the Civil War. As many as seven Black Republicans served in the House during the 1875-77 session, according to the US House Historical Office, and the House membership overall was much smaller.
Women are making steady gains in the Republican Party in the House, with 33 GOP women in the House, according to the Centre for Women in American Politics.
That’s up from 13 House Republican women in 2019.
But there are no Black Republican women in the House, compared with 27 Black women on the Democratic side, including some who have been powerful leaders and chairwomen wielding gavels.
Republicans count five Latina women and two Asian Americans, a fraction of those the Democrats have elected, according to the Centre for Women and Politics.
While the House freshman class includes seven new Republican women, the gains were essentially offset by six Republican women leaving, the centre said in its analysis of the new Congress.
House Republicans have held steady with about a dozen Latino and Hispanic lawmakers, but overall the proportion of Latinos in congress is less than in the US population. “This continues a long-running trend toward more racial and ethnic diversity on Capitol Hill: This is the seventh Congress to break the record set by the one before it,” said Pew Research Centre, including senators in its tally.
But Pew reports a vast divide by party for the racial and ethnic minority members in the new Congress: 80 per cent are Democrats while 20 per cent are Republicans.
The report said that’s similar to the last session of Congress. At that time, 83 per cent of non-white lawmakers were Democrats and 17 per cent were Republicans.
The Senate shows strides, too, with 25 women this session, including nine Republican female senators, matching the record set in 2020, according the Centre for Women and Politics.
Among the 100 senators, there is one Black Republican, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, and two Black Democrats, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
There are no Black women elected to the Senate.
There are six Latino or Hispanic senators, including two Republicans; and there are two Asian American senators, both Democrats.