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.

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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 SherrillOvernight Defense: Dems raise pressure on Esper to block border wall funds | Trump impeachment trial begins in Senate | Day one dominated by fight over rules House Dems express 'deepening concern' over plans to take .2B from Pentagon for border wall How the 31 Democrats in Trump districts voted on impeachment MORE (D-N.J.), former Air Force Capt. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Navy veteran Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaMixed feelings on war power limits: Lawmakers and vet candidates Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa Tenth Congressional Black Caucus member backs Biden MORE (D-Va.), who beat out another veteran, Rep. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorAvenatti held in El Chapo's old jail cell, lawyers say Vulnerable Democrats feel heat ahead of impeachment vote The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today 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 DuckworthAmtrak ends policy that led to K charge for activists using wheelchairs #MidnightMoscowMitch trends amid criticism of McConnell's proposed impeachment trial rules Democratic senator asks for meeting with Amtrak head over alleged disability discrimination MORE (D-Ill.), who served with the Army in the Iraq War; and Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSchiff pushes back: Defense team knows Trump is guilty Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Grassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk 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 McSallyDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses How Citizens United altered America's political landscape 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: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes 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 CrenshawO'Rourke says he'll focus on flipping Texas state House in 2020 House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Saagar Enjeti: Crenshaw's conservatism will doom future of GOP 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 CrowSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Female impeachment managers say American public know a 'rigged' trial when they see one Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE, an Army veteran from Colorado who unseated longtime Republican Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform 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 RussellThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Oklahoma New Members 2019 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 NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line 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 McCainConservative activist wins contest to represent New Hampshire at Republican National Convention Schiff shows clip of McCain in Trump impeachment trial Martha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter 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.”