"Badasses in their own right": Meet the freshwomen of Congress

Although their party largely rejects any notion of “identity politics,” almost all of the newly elected GOP congresswomen told POLITICO they’re proud to be among the largest and most diverse class of female freshmen the Republican Party has ever seen. Some, like Mary Miller of Illinois, said they see their role as (literally) changing the face of the Republican Party. Others cited the so-called Squad of Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib as an inspiration—not because they see that group, all of whom were elected in 2018, as ideological compatriots, but rather because they want to prove that women can advocate just as passionately for the other side. More than one mentioned “socialism” as a motivating factor for their run for Congress, including Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), whose parents fled the Cuban Revolution. “I lived the American dream,” she said. “I need to make sure that my children live the same dream.”

Congresswomen-elect of both parties suggested that the circumstances of the moment—a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, a likely divided Congress and a record number of women on Capitol Hill—might lend itself to more bipartisanship. Deborah Ross, a North Carolina Democrat, said that narrow margins in the House and Senate create “the opportunity for people to come together” because members see “an opportunity to be the difference-maker.” Beth Van Duyne, a Texas Republican, agreed. “The expectation of that line in the sand—we need to move past it,” she said. “The only people that hurts are the American people.” Nikema Williams, a Georgia Democrat, echoed Van Duyne: “Americans are hurting. And it’s not Democratic Americans or Republican Americans; they’re all hurting.”

But not everyone is interested in moderation or compromise. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a Black Lives Matter organizer from St. Louis, spoke of working with a small but growing band of “unapologetic activists” who will work together to “apply pressure” on even their own party “to push our agenda.” On the other side of the spectrum, Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) made clear that, compared to the effort spent pursuing middle-ground measures, “I’m going to fight even harder to make sure this progressive socialist movement ends this term, never to be discussed again.” And Miller reiterated as much, saying optimistically, that in lieu of advancing legislation, the Republican Party ought to “come up with a plan for when in two years we do take the House.”

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