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 Sherrill (D-N.J.), former Air Force Capt. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Navy veteran Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who beat out another veteran, Rep. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorFormer GOP rep launches Senate campaign in Virginia Virginia special prosecutor indicts former GOP campaign staffer The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 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: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault Overnight Defense: General accused of sexual assault to get confirmation hearing | Senate to vote Monday on overriding Saudi arms deal veto | Next Joint Chiefs chair confirmed | Graham tries to ease Turkey tensions MORE (D-Ill.), who served with the Army in the Iraq War; and Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstAir Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate Businesses, farmers brace for new phase in Trump trade war 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 McSallyFighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate Air Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Ex-FBI official names right-wing extremism one of the biggest security challenges for 2020 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 Esper, 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 Crenshaw (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 Crow, 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 NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups 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 McCainFighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire 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.”