WASHINGTON – Even before they are sworn in Thursday, the 100 newly elected House members are promising to be one of the most independent — and difficult to control — freshman classes in years.
They are far younger and more diverse than their predecessors. It’s the largest freshman class in nearly 50 years, with a record number of women, the youngest female House member ever elected and the first two American Indian women and first two Muslim women elected.
They also include the first single mothers with young children, more than 18 veterans, two NFL players and even a mixed martial arts fighter.
But along with that generational shift and diversity has come a fresh outlook and willingness to buck party and cast aside time-honored Washington precedents.
It is particularly true of House Democrats, many of whom as candidates last year distanced themselves from their party’s leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
The first test of how these newcomers will approach their jobs comes as soon as next week, when coveted committee assignments are doled out to lawmakers.
Rep.-elect Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., right, will occupy the same office that his father, Tom, did from 1975 until 1983.
Several freshmen have asked for — some have demanded — prime slots on powerful legislative committees writing laws regulating taxes, health care and environmental policy.
Such positions are typically out of reach for first-year lawmakers.
“We’ve got a really assertive, take-charge freshman class. … They’re demanding a lot of opportunities that have historically not been made available to freshmen,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who said she has waited 10 years to get on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the prime committees. “They’re going to shake this place up, and that’s kind of a good thing.”
Other veteran lawmakers were less charitable, viewing the newcomers’ demands as audacious.
“I don’t know if I want to say ‘Sit down and shut up’ ” in the newspaper, said one Democrat.
The influx of brash young House members will be particularly precarious for a Democratic leadership team in which the top three members are all over 78.
The new members will be seeking to make waves in a Democratic caucus that has not seen leadership turnover in more than 15 years.
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, of New York, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and perhaps the highest profile freshman, has asked for a slot on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy.
Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy organization, circulated a petition demanding Pelosi put her on the committee and included a fundraising link — a point that galled veteran House Democrats.
“That’s not how things work,” said another Democrat who didn’t want to be named criticizing a colleague.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has also advocated for freshmen to get on committees.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and her co-chair, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., “made it very clear that we thought some of these seats should be for new members because new members bring in incredible talent,” she said.
Even so, Ocasio-Cortez is not expected to get a position on Ways and Means, according to Democratic sources, and neither are many other freshmen.
Incoming Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., declined to weigh in on who will fill open positions on his committee, but said he’s hearing from “everybody.”
“It took me four years to get on the committee,” he added. “Freshmen generally don’t go to the Ways and Means Committee.”