10 freshmen to watch in the new Congress

10 freshmen to watch in the new Congress
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A member of the Cheney family. The Senate's first Latina. A former illegal immigrant.

That's just a sampling of the new faces in the next Congress, which will be the most diverse in history.

Seven new senators and 55 House members, fresh off their elections in November, will take the oath of office on Jan. 3.

Here are 10 incoming lawmakers to watch.


Rep.-elect Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.)

Illegal immigration is sure to be a hot topic in the new Congress with President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse expected to vote on omnibus Thursday afternoon House passes 'right to try' drug bill Spending bill rejects Trump’s proposed EPA cut MORE taking office. Espaillat will offer a perspective no other lawmaker has ever had: He’s the first formerly undocumented immigrant to serve in Congress. The first Dominican American to win election to either the House or Senate doesn’t shy away from his personal story. In a fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention this summer, he offered a preview of how he’ll challenge Trump and congressional Republicans. “I will become the first Dominican American to ever serve in the U.S. Congress,” Espaillat said in Philadelphia, later switching to Spanish. “Perhaps even just as important, I will be the first member of Congress who was once undocumented as an immigrant. You take that, Donald Trump!”


Rep.-elect Jason Lewis (R-Minn.)

Democrats barely contained their glee when Lewis won the GOP primary over more moderate, establishment-favored candidates for a competitive district vacated by retiring Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.). They compared Lewis, a talk show host with a history of controversial comments, to failed Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin and Trump. Democrats believed the treasure trove offered by Lewis’s talk radio show would surely doom him. They were wrong.


Instead, the House is about to get a member who once said white people are committing “cultural suicide” by failing to reproduce at the same rate as Hispanics; argued young, single women are “ignorant” and “non-thinking” for prioritizing access to birth control; and compared same-sex marriage to slavery. Lewis, not unlike Trump, has defended his comments as simply being blunt. He won by just two points this November and Democrats may try to target him again next cycle.


Rep.-elect Brian Mast (R-Fla.)

Mast provided House Republicans with one of their three pickups in a year where they were mostly playing defense. He’ll fill the seat left by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), who unsuccessfully ran for Senate. The 36-year-old Afghan war veteran will be one of the youngest members of Congress when he takes the oath of office in January, and he offers a compelling personal story at his relatively young age. Mast served as a bomb technician, finding and destroying explosive devices in the field, until a blast that lost him both his legs. President Obama invited Mast as a guest to his 2011 State of the Union address a few months later, where he sat in the front row with first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObamas send handwritten note to Parkland students: 'We will be there for you' Smithsonian moves Michelle Obama portrait to larger space over high demand Trump celebrates St. Patrick's day on Twitter MORE.


Rep.-elect Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)

Cheney will represent the same Wyoming House seat held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, nearly three decades ago. She’ll be one of just two new female members of the House GOP conference, along with Rep.-elect Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.).

The former State Department official and Fox News commentator’s profile is sure to rise once she begins representing a safely Republican seat. She backed Trump during the campaign, even as members of the Bush administrations in which her father served kept their distance.

Cheney won’t be the only freshman hailing from a high-profile political family. Incoming Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) is the son of Leon Panetta, a former Defense Secretary, CIA director, Office of Management and Budget director, White House chief of staff and House member.


Rep.-elect Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.)

In what was otherwise a dismal election night for Democrats, Murphy’s toppling of a 24-year GOP incumbent offered the party one of its few bright spots. Democrats struggled for most of the 2016 cycle to find a candidate willing to run against former House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.). The Orlando-area district had become more Democratic after its boundaries were redrawn, making party operatives hopeful for a pickup. Murphy finally jumped into the race right before the June filing deadline without ever running for office before. Yet she still managed to pull the rug out from under Mica five months later.

Murphy’s victory will make her the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve in Congress. Her parents fled communist Vietnam when she was a baby and were rescued on a boat by the U.S. Navy.


Rep.-elect Charlie Crist (D-Fla.)

The Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat former Florida governor is making a political comeback. He’ll have a better understanding of his colleagues across the aisle than most after having been a Republican himself. He registered as a Democrat in 2012 after losing a Senate race two years earlier, and penned a book titled “The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.” After multiple failed bids for Senate and to return as his state’s chief executive, Crist finally caught a break this year running for the House seat occupied by Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.). Redistricting made it more Democratic, easing the way for Crist to prevail.


Rep.-elect Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

The first Indian-American woman to serve in the House is one of only a handful of Democrats who secured an endorsement from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersModerates see vindication in Lipinski’s primary win Sanders: Fox News 'couldn't handle' town hall on economic inequality Mississippi woman appointed to Senate, making Vermont only state to never have female lawmaker MORE (I-Vt.). Jayapal’s Seattle-area district is the most liberal in the Pacific Northwest, meaning any sort of serious challenge she’d face for reelection would likely come from the left. Before serving as a state senator, Jayapal was honored by the Obama White House as a “champion of change” for founding a nonprofit to promote immigration reform and register new citizens to vote. Jayapal created the organization, called OneAmerica, in response to hate crimes after the Sept. 11 attacks.


Sen.-elect Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.)

Masto’s election win marks a historic first for the Senate, giving the upper chamber its first Latina lawmaker. Masto previously served as Nevada’s attorney general and beat Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) to keep the seat in the Democratic column as Donald Trump’s immigration stance loomed over the race.

She'll be watched closely as the successor to outgoing Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Only thing Defense’s UFO probe proves is power of political favors Nevada Democrat accused of sexual harassment reconsiders retirement: report MORE (D-Nev.), whose blunt rhetoric made him a top enemy for Republicans. As a freshman lawmaker Masto won’t have Reid’s clout, but he told a local radio station that he hopes she’ll be “bold” and straightforward on her policy positions and “open” with the press.


Sen.-elect Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

Harris will make history  twice as soon she's sworn in. She'll become the upper chamber's first Indian-American lawmaker and California's first black senator. Harris previously served for six years as the state's attorney general and defeated Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) to succeed outgoing Democratic Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE.

Despite being new to Washington she's well-connected, earning support from President Obama, who also endorsed her attorney general bid in 2010, as well as liberal favorite Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDems offering bill aimed at curbing stock buybacks Lessons from Dan Lipinski’s victory Michael Moore: Russia, Stormy Daniels stories are 'shiny keys to distract us' MORE (D-Mass.).

She's also already the focus of speculation as a potential 2020 White House candidate, and is setting herself up to be a chief critic of Trump.


Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

Though not new to Washington, Van Hollen will join the Senate as a freshman next year after winning a closely watched and heated Democratic primary fight against Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.).

The newly elected senator was announced as the next chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, putting him on the front lines of a brutal 2018 campaign cycle. He'll be responsible for defending his 23 Democratic colleagues who will be up for reelection, including 10 in states carried by Donald Trump during the White House race.

It's unusual to give a freshman control of the caucus's campaign arm, but Van Hollen previously chaired the DSCC's House counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.