Members of the House of Representatives meet on Capitol Hill Jan. 6, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Diversity comes to Capitol Hill, slowly

When then-Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) first arrived on Capitol Hill, she thought she’d take advantage of the Senate pool and get some exercise. It didn’t go well – she was told that the pool was only available to men.
 
Liza Mundy explained that “some of the male senators liked to swim naked,” so “the Senate pool was males-only.”
 
Note, this happened in 2008, not 1908.
 
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) intervened, using his position as chair of the Rules Committee to open the pool to men and women senators, but one Washington insider told Mundy that “it was a fight” for Schumer to make the change.
 
Six years later, diversity on Capitol Hill is improving – albeit slowly.
Here are some stunning numbers from the Washington Post: The demographic makeup of the 114th Congress (both House and Senate) is 80% white, 80% male, and 92% Christian. On the one hand, that’s more diversity than Congress has ever seen.
 
On the other hand, it has a LONG way to go to reflect the country at large (63% non-Hispanic white, 51% female, and 73% Christian).
The Hill yesterday described this as the “most diverse Congress in history,” which is true. Most of the diversity comes by way of Democratic lawmakers, but the fact remains that the institution is slowly starting to look more like more like the U.S. population.
 
That said, issues related to diversity are not without the occasional complication.
 
In the House, for example, Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) this week became the first and only black woman in the House Republican conference. As the Washington Post noted, she also joined the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday, becoming the first GOP lawmaker in the caucus since Rep. Allen West’s (Fla.) single term on the Hill.
 
This wouldn’t be especially noteworthy were it not for Mia Love’s vow to take the Congressional Black Caucus “apart from the inside out.” Here’s what she said about the CBC during her first congressional campaign:
“It’s demagoguery. They sit there and ignite emotions and ignite racism when there isn’t.
 
“They use their positions to instill fear. Hope and change is turned into fear and blame. Fear that everybody is going lose everything and blaming Congress for everything instead of taking responsibility.”
This 2012 vow apparently didn’t stop the CBC from welcoming Love aboard, though it’ll be interesting to see whether, and how, the Utah Republican tries to take the caucus “apart from the inside out.”
 

Congress

Diversity comes to Capitol Hill, slowly