WASHINGTON — Republicans just won the House majority in the midterm elections, but Lori Chavez-DeRemer sees the party’s increased diversity in Congress as its “biggest accomplishment.”
Chavez-DeRemer is part of that change. The granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant and the former mayor of Happy Valley, Ore., she is heading to Washington to represent a district in the state that became more competitive after a Democratic primary challenger ousted the incumbent. She’s one of three Latina Republicans elected to the House in November, helping nearly double the number of GOP Latinas in Congress next year.
“The Democrats often owned that they were the party of minorities, but that’s really not the case if you talk about values,” said Chavez-DeRemer, citing faith, family, and freedom as among the values most important to non-white voters. “I find that that is the values of the Republican Party, and now we’re reflecting that with the newest members of this freshmen class.”
When she and the other new members take the oath of office in January, they’ll be part of the most racially and ethnically diverse Congress in history. More than a quarter of voting members of the House and Senate next year identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Native American.
Most of those gains come from Democrats, but Republicans get some credit. Ahead of the election, Republican Party leaders invested heavily in recruiting and funding a diverse group of candidates, seeing them as key to gaining control of the House.
“What we saw in 2020 was that every seat we flipped was won by a woman or a minority, and so continuing that success and winning races requires recruiting new kinds of candidates that reflect their districts,” said Calvin Moore, spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “Looking out at the districts that we won this cycle, it’s a lot of candidates that fit that same mold.”
But despite their efforts, Republicans still have a long way to go to match the Democrats in diversity among the 535 total voting members of the House and Senate. Republicans will account for just 27 of the 140 non-white members in the next Congress. (The party’s number could increase if Herschel Walker wins the Georgia Senate runoff next month.)
Republicans had higher hopes for increased diversity in Congress, with several candidates falling short, but the party still has broken some barriers. Republicans elected George Santos of New York, their first openly LGBTQ non-incumbent member, both new female or non-white Senators — Katie Britt of Alabama and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma — are Republican, and more Black Republicans will serve in Congress together than at any point since 1877.
Democrats, in turn, bolstered their already more diverse caucus. Over 50 percent of their new incoming lawmakers are non-white, and all but one of the record-high 13 LGBTQ members next year are Democrats.
On both sides of the aisle, voters elected candidates that made history, notably Floridians elected Maxwell Frost, the first Gen Z member of Congress, and Vermont became the last state to send a woman to Congress by electing Becca Balint. But as Congress becomes more diverse, there are fewer nationwide firsts to be had and many of the ones celebrated on election night were state or region specific.
“Those intersectional identities matter for how members of Congress do their jobs. Black women behave differently and approach the job of being a legislator differently than white women do,” said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington, D.C., think tank. “It’s important to look at when, from particular states, we start to see those barriers breaking down.”
Beyond their legislative impact, Reynolds said that having diverse lawmakers matters because it allows communities to see someone “who looks like them attaining these offices and working on the problems that face their communities.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Annise Parker, a former Houston mayor and president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports LGBTQ candidates. She stressed the importance of having people from underrepresented communities in Congress so that they can speak about their own experiences.
“This is about direct impact, but it is also about long-term understanding of what the real needs of our community are,” she said. “It is absolutely critical that we have those conversations. That’s something that the best and most supportive ally cannot do.”
BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, expressly centered its efforts around increasing Hispanic representation nationwide. The group heavily recruited, trained, and raised money for candidates and also got involved in redistricting after the 2020 census to advocate for newly drawn House districts that would be advantageous to Hispanic candidates.
“You want to have people who represent different walks of life and different perspectives, so that we can bring that to Congress and educate everyone else before we start making decisions,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who chairs BOLD PAC.
The campaign strategy worked: every incumbent endorsed by BOLD PAC won re-election and newcomers, such as Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico and Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, won upset elections for seats BOLD PAC helped change through redistricting.
But while the Hispanic and LGBTQ congressional delegations will be the largest in history, the representation of other demographic groups — including women, Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous people — stayed relatively steady and remain vastly underrepresented in Congress.
Ensuring that Congress matches the nation’s diversity will require that political parties support diverse candidates and then give them the resources to succeed once they reach Capitol Hill, Reynolds said.
“This is sort of like a supply and demand problem,” she said. “I think that [these steps] will then have follow-up effects where more prospective members from diverse backgrounds want to run and hopefully win.”
Chavez-DeRemer saw those principles at play in her own election and believes that the GOP can use them to catch up to the Democrats in terms of diversity.
“You’re seeing, I think, a reflection of what the Republican Party is today, and that’s going to be directly relatable to our constituencies. They see somebody that is like them,” she said. “We’re excited as a Republican freshmen class to be that diverse in representing all of our districts well.”
Shannon Coan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shannonccoan.