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Record number of female veterans to serve in next Congress

Record number of female veterans to serve in next Congress

The incoming 116th Congress includes a record number of female veterans, even as the overall number of former service members is on the decline.

Six female veterans will hold office on Capitol Hill after a record number were on the ballot for Election Day. In total, 93 veterans are slated to serve as lawmakers when the next Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.

{mosads}The midterm elections saw more than 170 veterans on the ballot, according to the University of San Francisco and Veterans Campaign, a group that prepares veterans for careers in politics.

Of the veterans running for the House, a dozen were women, marking the highest number ever, according to Veterans Campaign Executive Director Seth Lynn.

Sixteen former service members — including three women — won their races and will serve their first terms starting in January, the most new veterans since 2010.

In 2016, 14 new veterans were elected, and a dozen won in both 2014 and 2012, according to Lynn.

“This was the year of women candidates,” Lynn told The Hill. “Women candidates, fair or unfair, are often questioned about whether they’re tough enough for the job, whereas male candidates aren’t.”

With military service, he said, no one questions whether they’re tough enough.

“It never even comes up,” Lynn said.

The new female veteran House members are former Navy pilot Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillCalls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Do Democrats really want unity? Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington MORE (D-N.J.), former Air Force Capt. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Navy veteran Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaChamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Luria holds onto Virginia House seat MORE (D-Va.), who beat out another veteran, Rep. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorLuria holds onto Virginia House seat Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), a former Navy SEAL.

Two other female veterans, who were not up for reelection this year, are already in the Senate: Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage National Guard back inside Capitol after having been moved to parking garage Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Ill.), who served with the Army in the Iraq War; and Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time Just five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional Senate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback MORE (R-Iowa), an Army National Guard veteran who was the first female combat veteran ever elected to the Senate.

The Senate race in Arizona between Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyState-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake MORE (R), a former Air Force colonel, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) is still too close to call.

The party breakdown of veterans is still heavily tilted toward the GOP, with 68 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

Army Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings Trump administration official Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief MORE, a Gulf War veteran, said last week that he was pleased to see so many former service members elected to Congress.

“I think that bodes well for the military writ large,” he told attendees during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Notable wins in the House include Republican Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawCapitol Police tribute turns political Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE (Texas), a former Navy SEAL who served three tours of duty and lost his right eye in an improvised explosive device explosion in Afghanistan, and Democrat Jason CrowJason CrowThe GOP is in a fix: Gordian knot or existential crisis? Thousands of troops dig in for inauguration Sixth House Republican backs Trump impeachment MORE, an Army veteran from Colorado who unseated longtime Republican Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado governor says he was not exposed to COVID-19 after Aurora mayor tests positive Colorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody MORE, himself an Army and Marine Corps veteran.

But despite the number of new wins, the total number of veterans in Congress is on the decline. More than 70 percent of lawmakers in the 1970s had served in the military. For the 115th Congress, that number was down to 19 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Lynn said that number has steadily decreased now that less than 1 percent of Americans are currently in the military.

“Forty years ago, pretty much everybody in Congress at the time would have been a veteran, a good three-quarters,” Lynn said, referring to years shortly after the U.S. stopped using the draft for military service.

The Vietnam War marked the first generation of veterans who were less likely to get involved with politics compared to peers who did not serve, a development that played out in Congress, Lynn said.

The total number of veterans in Congress also took a hit as several incumbents were not reelected.

One of those lawmakers was Rep. Steve RussellSteven (Steve) Dane RussellKendra Horn concedes to Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma, flipping seat back to GOP GOP women's group launches six-figure campaign for House candidate Bice Bice wins Oklahoma GOP runoff to face Horn in November MORE (R-Okla.), a former Army Ranger and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The Senate is at risk of losing Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Georgia Senate races shatter spending records Georgia voters flood polls ahead of crucial Senate contests MORE (D-Fla.), who served in the U.S. Army Reserve in the Vietnam War. Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee, is in a tight reelection race that’s headed to an automatic recount.

The recent upswing in new veterans stems in large part from the 9/11 generation becoming more engaged in politics, according to Lynn.

“Even though it’s a small portion of the population — just nine of the freshman veterans are Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans — about 93 percent of veterans coming back say they want to keep serving somehow,” he said.

Lynn said the new class of former service members will help sway policy in national security and defense, in part because “very senior members will very quickly defer to junior members with military experience if they don’t have any themselves, when it comes to those kind of issues.”

He also hopes the new veterans will bring more unity to a largely divided Congress, a sentiment championed by the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOn The Money: GOP digs in on defending Trump tax cuts | Democrats bullish on raising minimum wage | Financial sector braces for Biden's consumer bureau pick No. 2 Senate Democrat says minimum wage can be increased with simple majority vote State-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss MORE (R-Ariz.), who died of brain cancer in August. In his final years, the former prisoner of war pressed for more veterans in elected office, noting that military service and its common bonds helped boost bipartisanship.

“One of the few things that still trumps partisanship in this city is shared
service,” Lynn said. “We have seen that with some incoming classes, at least initially. As we get more and more of these folks there I think we’ll see more of that happening.”